Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Diablo Trails Challenge Race Review 2014

The drive from Redwood City started at 7am. The destination was the Castle Rock Park just south of Walnut Creek in the east bay. That would be the starting line of the 2014 Save Mount Diablo Trail Challenge. I made a wrong turn in Walnut Creek onto Walnut Blvd, I was looking for Walnut Avenue. That set me back on my arrival time which should have been 8am but now looked like 8:15 at best. That will leave 15 minutes to get my bib and get ready to run at the 8:30 start time. When I finally got within a mile of the park I noticed all of these runners parking at the high school. The traffic was grid locked but I was determined to get through to the park. When we got there we were told the parking lots were full so we had to turn around and drive back to the high school where a shuttle would pick us up and bring us back to the park. I jumped out of the car, told my wife to do the shuttle and I started off in the direction of the crowd flow. Moments later a guy came jogging by and my worried mind told me that under the circumstances I had better start jogging to the bib pick up too. I was certain the race start would be delayed. With all of the people back at the high school and that long line of cars piled up waiting to be told to turn around there was no way Brazen could start this race in the next 10 minutes. My light warm up jogging covered about a half mile from the parking lot to the sign in booth. I got through the line, pinned on my bib and noticed a crowd starting to form near the start. Sure enough the pre-race announcements started and this race was about to get underway. I called my wife to see if she made it to the shuttle yet and she had not! She too figured the race would have to delay the start. I told her not to worry about it, I would see her at the finish because the race was going to start any minute. I'm dying to know how many, if any, runners missed the start of the half due to this parking situation. I certainly would have if I had either went to the shuttle parking lot as instructed or if I had walked to the sign-in booth not realizing it was a half mile down the road. I got lucky with some key decisions. How many others were not so lucky? If you know of any I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Diablo Trails Challenge 2014
This course has many little creek crossings.
Reflecting back on the Diablo Trails Challenge Half Marathon I thought, How am I going to write a review of this race and say more than just "I walked and then I walked a little more." That is honestly a lot of what I did on this course. I knew from the elevation chart that we would run over two foothills and then start the long climb up Mt Diablo. The climbs may not have lasted long on those foothills but they were so steep that they were walkers. To be honest, the crowd had not thinned out yet and the trail was fairly narrow but that is not the only reason why a bunch of people agreed to walk. You know how it is on single track, someone up ahead decides to walk and then each person in line behind the walker has to make a choice, walk or pass. Almost nobody choose to pass, a testament to the terrain. So one by one the hill, in concert with the runners up ahead, forced us to walk. It was so early in the race that I was shocked and worried all at the same time. The hills were so steep at mile 2 and mile 3 that I had my hands on my knees and I was power hiking as best I could. My legs and lungs were burning and I knew this was going to be crazy! If I'm putting out this kind of effort at this early stage in the race, what in the world am I going to do when the real climbing begins?

Diablo Trails Challenge Elevation Chart
By mile 4 the course flattens out for just a minute and then it starts to climb. This is over 1000 feet of climbing for the next 5 miles and at times it is just demoralizing to see no end in sight. The views of the Bay Area are spectacular and the mix of exposed and forest covered trails is really great. Running at Mt Diablo is a truly great experience but getting up to the high elevations is quite difficult. I guess that's the price you pay to see those sights and run at those heights.

Is the downhill section really a welcome relief?
Around mile 9 the course turns down for good. It is steep but if you have good downhill form you should be fine. My legs were hamburger and my endurance was crumbling by the time I got to the last mile or so and even though the course was much flatter, I needed to walk. I needed to catch my breath, lower my heart rate, clear some lactic acid from my legs and basically do a full system reset. I got it together with just a couple minutes of walking and started back up to cross the finish line at 2:40:23. To put that in perspective that is the 2nd slowest half marathon I have ever ran. The only other race that was slower was the Rocky Ridge Half that is widely accepted as being the most difficult course in the Bay Area and for that I grabbed a 2:46:40. I ended up being 19th in my age group and 144th overall. Not my most impressive stats. The full results can be seen here.

Brett Rivers wins the 50k
 Congratulations to Harlan Lopez who won the half marathon in 1:30:40 and to Natasha Wicks for lead female in 1:55:44. Those times are unreal as far as I am concerned. Not long after being done with the race the crowd lit up as the 1st 50k runner came down the home stretch. It was Brett Rivers in a time of 4:06:21!!! That's hard to wrap my head around. For the Ultra Half Series I will now have a cumulative time back of about 2:00:00 for my first 2 races. You have to have 3 races in the series before Brazen will start tracking you on the standings page. I need to perform a bit better on the next race which is Wildcat on May 10th if I have any hope of cracking the top 10 in the standings this year. In June I am running the Lynch Canyon Trail run. If I beat last years time at that beast of a race then I can be assured that I am improving. Let's hope so!