Monday, August 12, 2013

Crystal Springs Trail Run Half Marathon review

Coastal Trail Runs 8/10/13
Once again Coastal Trail Runs has put on another outstanding event and because of that reputation an outstanding field of competitors showed up to race. I showed up at about 8:15am for our 9am race. The line to get my bib was short and sweet and the line to get into the restroom was non-existent so with those two details out of the way I was free to do a few strides on the grassy hill of the start line while waiting for the time to pass. I noticed 3 or 4 guys hanging around and figured they would be at the front of the pack where I planned to be. I ran into a guy I had previously done a few weekend runs with and knowing his ability I counted him in the top ranks as well. The race announcements and course instructions were delivered at 5 minutes to 9:00 and all 128 of us were off and running at exactly the top of the hour.

 The entire event drew about 320 racers and almost half of those were in the half marathon. Just my luck to be in the most hotly contested distance of the day. I would normally be running the 50k but today I ran the half marathon because my training schedule allowed me to train for a half this summer. I like this course and I have previously run a few half's and a few 35k races at Huddart and it feels like my home turf. The last time I raced out here was a 50k that I dnf'd.

 I used my course knowledge to my advantage in the beginning. I shot off the starting line like a scalded dog when the race started because I knew the first turn onto the trail was a sharp right that had fence posts on either side of the trail that creates a bottle neck. If your not in the top 10 you will wait for a minute or so to get through this pinch point. Out of the split rail fence posts I held 2nd for a quarter mile until a speedy fellow came by on a narrow section of the single track we were bombing down. I held 3rd until we bottomed out on to a wide track called Richards Rd. This is where the runners could spread out and take rank. I slipped back 4 or 5 places pretty quickly and held on to the top 10 runners for about a mile or so. I knew we were running fast and I knew the climbing would begin soon and I didn't want to burn out this quickly in the race so I held back. I was counting on the 5 mile hill climb to sort things out for me. It did not. I knew I could run the 2000 ft to the top and banked on many of those in front of me having to take some walk breaks but that never really materialized. I kept slipping back a place here and a place there.

 On the climb up there are 2 distinct spots where the course levels out and even takes a downhill turn to help your legs out. The first is on Chapparal Trail about 2 miles into the race. It is much less of a climb and it even has a small downhill that would help me reach another gear and pass a few people, or so I thought. I hit 7 minute pace on this small section and maybe gained some distance over those behind me but I certainly did not pass anybody. I wasn't catching them on the uphill; and I wasn't catching them on the downhill. This was not working out as I planned. I figured it was early in the race and time will sort the weak from the strong. As the race progressed and I got passed a few more times I again counted on a downhill section to turn that around for me.


Crystal Springs Trail Run Elevation Chart
 As you near the top of the climb you turn off of Crystal Springs trail and start descending Summit Springs trail. I picked up the pace and blasted past quite a few runners but something told me they were from the earlier groups like the marathon or 50k runners. The last monster climb is on Summit Springs trail and it is a vertical beast. I pushed as hard as I could and could see several others just in front of me doing the same. I had caught the tail end of the lead pack or so I thought. My count had about 15 people in front of me but it was hard to keep track. I got to the hill top and cruised the half mile of rollers to the aid station. I topped off my handheld and was gone in 15 seconds.

 I knew I had just passed some half marathon runners who were staying at the aid station a bit too long. I wasn't sure about my place in the race at this point but that would all change soon. This next section is unique to Coastal Trail Runs. Many race promoters put on races at Huddart Park through out the year and for the most part they all use the same course with very slight variations from one to the other. Coastal includes this out and back section at the top of the mountain that is a single track that heads out for 1.2 miles and turn around and puts right back at this aid station. I knew if I counted the number of runners that were running back at me I would know what place I was in. I also knew that the 50k, Marathon and 22 mile runners would all be heading back on this trail but not this early in the day. The only ones who could be coming back would be the half marathoners and by my count that was 24 runners!!! Wow!!! I reached that half way mark and turned around on a dime and headed back with a purpose. I had ground to catch up, big time!!!

 The run back to the aid station flew by quickly as did the aid station. I did not stop to refill the water bottle or partake in the buffet table of trail food that Coastal always offers. I was on a mission and I knew my downhill would turn this race around. I had averaged just under 10 minute pace up until this point and the rest of the run was downhill except for 1 small section of climbing. I blasted that downhill section and started ticking off 7:30 miles but never caught anyone! I figured I would make up some ground on the climbs when we hit the Dean Trail at about mile 11. Nope. This was just amazing to me. I was either giving myself way to much credit on my abilities to run these trails or the level of competition that showed up to race today was outstanding. This started to put me in a foul mood. I started focusing on all kinds of negatives in my life. Why I was doing this I don't know but the sour reflection slowed me down and switched my focus onto insignificant nonsense.

 I snapped out of that downward spiral of negativity when two girls flew past me like I was standing still. We had just over a mile to go and I was jolted back into focus mode just in time. I ran hard but could not catch them. They seemed to run effortlessly and my best effort was 8:30 pace. I came into the last quarter mile or less and was absolutely destroyed. I heard some feet shuffling right behind me and freaked out. I dropped it down a gear and hit a dead sprint as fast as I could. I heard a voice on the side lines saying "HEY, You could at least let the girl win!!!". WHAT??? Apparently their was another female about to pass me. I had no idea what gender was about to pass me when I reached for the Prefontaine button, all I knew was that it was likely a male in my age group who was going to steal my 3rd place finish. I blasted through the finish line at 2:03:06. That was good enough for a 28th place overall and a 5th place in my age group. I was a bit shocked but far from disappointed. I ran my heart out and left everything I had out on that course. Those that beat me were far superior athletes who deserved to beat me. The overall winner, Ben Potter, was 25 minutes ahead of me. The 3rd place for my age group (30-39) was 12 minutes ahead of me so I never really had a shot at an overall or age group podium. These runners were awesome and I have new targets to aspire to! Check out the race results here and the photos here. I highly recommend this race to anyone who has never run in Huddart Park. The trails are beautiful and of course Coastal does a fantastic job of putting these races on. I will definitely be back for another go at this course for sure. Until then....

See you in the woods,
Jonathan Fales

2 comments:

  1. I really liked this review. I also ran the half marathon on Saturday (much slower than you did) and I also found myself humbled by the strength of the other runners. I ran 5 mins faster than I'd anticipated so I was happy with my time (it was my first real trail race) but I came away also feeling like a really poor runner. So I was interested to see that a much faster runner felt the same way! It was a great race though, and a beautiful course. Can't wait for my next trail race!

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  2. I'm so glad you liked the review and your first trail race. The trail races usually climb & fall in shorter durations. This race was a long slog to the top and a rollercoaster blast to the bottom. Very unique and very challenging but satisfying upon completion. If you completed this race you are far from a poor runner. This course is only for those who have attained a certain level of fitness. Obviously you have. Good for you!!!

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