Thursday, June 6, 2013

Lynch Canyon Trail Run race review

June 1st 2013- If you have read my posts leading up to this race you know this race was presented to me as "the toughest trail run in Solano County" and I immediately signed up to see if it was just hype. I have run some really tough races over monster elevation gains and during tough weather conditions. Add that to the fact that I had never heard of this race before and I figured it was likely just hype.

Lynch Canyon Trail Run start area
I hit the road at 6 am headed out of Redwood City aiming for the hills of Vallejo. Lynch Canyon Open Space Preserve is just off I-80 on the outskirts of Vallejo. The hill in the picture to the left is the first thing you see as you drive up to the parking lot and it immediately informs you of what kind of run your about to have if you have run enough trails around the Bay Area. There will be no switchbacks, there will be no shady tree canopies overhead. This will be straight up the face of the hill until your quads scream and then straight back down the other side giving no rest for the next hill that is sure to follow immediately after. The race sponsors had a few tents up and a local radio station, 95.3 KUIC, was offering free coffee and pastries. I made my way over to the bib pick up tent and told them my name. The lady helping me recognized my name and asked "Are you the Jonathan with" "Yeah, that's me!" I said with amazement. "I'm Aleta, the person who first contacted you about this race." she said. We exchanged greetings and talked about the blog for a bit and then she pointed me in the direction of the race director, Chris Abess. Chris invited me to run this race to see for myself how hard it really is. I appreciated the invite and told him so upon meeting him. We chatted about the blog and the incredible response I was getting to the articles and I was curious to know if he noticed a spike in registrations. He most certainly did, 60% increase in registrations over the last week. That's awesome! I knew I got decent traffic on this site but a friend had me convinced that all of my hits were coming from Google crawling my site and not real readers. This data says differently. Score one for the trail community.
 A quick stop at the porto potties is always a must as I get closer to the start time. This parking lot has one restroom so Chris brought in 5 more. The line was about 5- 10 minutes long which ended up being a blessing. A lady got in line behind me with an Inside Trail Racing Team Member singlet on. I, in the most disarming tone imaginable said "Excuse me. Are you really a Team Member of ITR?" "Yes." she replied matter of factly. "That's awesome!" I said. "You guys are hardcore! I read your stuff all the time. Your entire team is super talented." I gushed. "Thank You, My name is Brenda." she replied. We chatted about the race we were about to run and some other small talk and then it was my turn up at bat. The next time I saw her she was glowing with the satisfaction of winning the race! Good for you, and thanks for being cool!!!
Like the great migration on the plains of the Serengeti, the crowd started falling in line down a gravel road headed for the hills. Start time was fast approaching and bull horns were speaking in the distance. It looked to me like about 250 runners were starting out in the first wave made up of half marathon, 10k & 5k runners. The 2k would go 5 minutes later. After a few race instructions and some safety tips,due to the heat, were tossed into the crowd. Chris told us that he added water stops to the course and shade tents in between. He put out ice water buckets with rags in them in case you were overheating during the race. This is a top notch race in my opinion because the heat tips, extra water stops and ice water buckets. That tells me runner safety is a priority and that is appreciated.
 The race started just after 8am. The lead pack shot out at a fast pace and I held back as usual. We climbed hills almost immediately and they almost had me walking. I was grateful for that energy conservation at the start when the hill pictured on the left came up just a mile or 2 into the race. It was so steep that I had to have a picture of it and I had to walk! There was one hill after another on this course. There was one other hill that forced me to walk a couple miles after this one. I would confidently say that 65% of this course is covered on steep terrain. The other 35% is not exactly flat but definitely runnable. The loop has less than a half mile of shade split between two spots. One small shady area about 3 miles into the run is gone in the blink of an eye. The second spot (pictured left) comes a mile later and lasts less than a quarter mile. That's it for shade. This run is exposed, so be sure to stay up on weather reports when the race date comes around next year.

Coming out of that shade and having about 2 miles to go before coming back around to the start area I felt like I had run pretty good so far. I was averaging 10:30 per mile despite the walks and that was good enough to accomplish the goal of running under 2:30:00. Chris told me before heading out this morning that "this race is death by a thousand nicks!" His words were ringing in my ears and keeping me conservative as I anticipated the next nick. I skipped all of the aid stations and instead drank all of my hand held and some of my waist pack bottle. I was racing a younger guy in red for a lot of this first loop. I lead some and he lead some but as we came down to the last mile I over took him on a tough hill climb and then jammed downhill to the start area aid station where I finally decided to stop. I refilled my hand held bottle and ate a banana and shot out for the second loop all within a minute. I saw the red guy heading to the restroom and realized he was a 10k competitor and congratulated him on a great race as I flew by. He waived as I sailed on.

Two people were in front of me as I approached the gravel road we started out on. One guy was 100yds ahead of me and a girl in blue was a couple hundred yards ahead of him. The course has a fork in the road not far past the starting point. The 5k runners went left and the 10k and half runners went right this morning. This second loop had us go left this time. Just before this fork I passed the guy in front of me and thus began the back and forth we would have for a couple miles. The left turn took us up to the top of the really big hill that forced me to walk this morning. The difference between right turn and left turn is that you get to the big hill quicker going left and you climb a steeper fire road to get to the top. I walked a good portion of this hill and the space I was gaining on the girl in blue started to slip away as the guy passed on by for the first time. I skipped the aid station at the top and ran along the ridge until the next hill began. This could have been a walker but I decided not to as the guy decided otherwise. I passed him by as I baby stepped up this hill and noticed the girl in blue started walking too but not enough to let me catch her. By the time I got to the top she was out of site already. The next section was a nice downhill that was runnable and my legs allowed me to fly down making up valuable time.

The next big hill that was walked this morning comes as this downhill section comes to an end. This was the final time the guy would pass me and I thought my chances of catching the girl in blue had slipped away. Once this hill was crested I ran by an aid station still relying on my handheld and waist bottle. The course meanders down for quite some distance and not far into it I passed the guy back and caught site of the girl! I slowly shortened the distance but still had a long ways to go by the time I reached the bottom of
this slope and only about 2 miles to get it done. The course turns up at this point but its not steep, its just never ending. I ran it hard knowing a long flat stretch was at the top to use for recovery. I pushed hard when I saw her. She looked like she was hitting the wall. I sailed by and noted her really heavy breathing so I poured on the power to discourage her from challenging me. When somebody passes by quickly you generally don't try to pace off them when your in a low period. You let them go because you don't have that kind of energy. It worked, she did not hook on behind me and I grew the gap with every step. The course turns up one more time before dumping you downhill to the finish and this last climb was killing me! I wanted to slow down but fear of being passed so close to the finish having worked so hard to keep the guy and girl behind me kept me going. I bared down and willed myself up and over this hill. I let my legs go on the decent and blazed through the finish line in 2:16:31. I had smashed my goal of 2:30:00 and was thoroughly pleased with that. My time placed me 26th overall and 8th in my age group. The finish line aid station had the largest selection of food and it was plentiful. Some genius bought the huge Costco muffins, the blueberry and the chocolate chip, and cut them into quarters. I downed 2 bottles of ice cold water while munching on some these sugary treats. The small touches like ice cold water, big Costco muffins and shade stations along the course make this a cut above. I can not recommend this race enough. The race results were periodically being posted. I checked those out for a minute while I slowly recovered from this monster effort. The course is definitely the toughest trail run in Solano County. I say this is #3 in all of the half's I've ever done and I've done quite a few. The Horseshoe Lake Half two weeks earlier was a challenge but no where near as hard as this. The Huddart Park half course that everyone and their brother holds a race on is a killer by most standards. But it's more manageable than this course. It's a close 3rd to Rocky Ridge and the Drag-N-Fly courses.

The winner of the day* was Raheem Moore of Suisun City coming in at 1:31:04 beating Dave Mackey's record by 20 seconds! For the women it was the nice lady from the restroom line this morning, Brenda Blinn! She came in at a blistering fast 1:54:02. I ended off the day by chatting with the girl in blue telling her how impressed I was with her running. Especially on the hills where she ran when others walked. She thanked me and confessed that this was her third half and that my kind words would help her keep at it. I was stunned!!! This girl wil be great the more she keeps at it. That is a really great performance for having only done 2 halfs prior.

 The free hike offered by the race was a big hit and really brought the family fun side of this event to life. I saw a lot of strollers, couples and families coming back in as I was headed out on my second loop. The families and friends that all socialized at the finish area made this a really nice event that me and my wife will do together next year. I'm already looking forward to it.

See you on the hills,


*Race Results update!

One day after publishing this article Chris shot me an email saying:

After review of the times and course photo's, there was an accidental turn on one of the winner's laps that eliminated around 400+ feet of climbing and maybe .5 miles...explaining the major gap between 1st and everyone else this year...

So feel comfortable that Dave Mackey's record is still a far reach...

On a "coincidental note"...unless you know this photographer, he actually turned an image of you in to race art.  I had a couple different people produce race art on their own...and send a digital image...thought you might want this
See you next year...if you want to arrange a group, just ping me in advance next year and we'll work something out.
That's really too bad. The course was marked really well and I never wondered if I was "off course" like I have in other races only to see a course marker just around the trail bend. How he got confused (giving him the benefit of the doubt) is a mystery to me.
The photographer was a nice guy that I chatted with just prior to the bathroom line chat with Brenda. He saw me taking a video at the start area. I do this sometimes' speaking into the "camera", so I can remember certain info and help put me back in that moment when I watch it back and write my articles. The photographer Herman Jessie Robertson Jr  has some really great photos on the web. Click his name and check him out. Below is the video he saw me shooting.