Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Race Report: Trail Hog Half Marathon 2014

Brazen Racing's Trail Hog Half Marathon was this past weekend on Saturday the 6th. This race is held at the Joseph D Grant County Park which is situated at the foot of Mt Hamilton in East San Jose. To get to this park you need to leave a little early because the drive is very curvy through narrow, hilly roads that tend to be foggy in the morning. GPS and Google will tell you to take Quimby Rd to get there. Don't do it, instead opt for Alum Rock Ave and Mt Hamilton Rd. It is a bit longer but it is more drive-able and more scenic.

 This race was #6 for me in the Brazen Racing Ultra Half Marathon Series. You only need to run 5 to get into the championship race but running more than 5 is to your advantage because Brazen is only calculating your 5 BEST times to determine your place in the standings. I ran this race for that very purpose, let me explain.

 I had a terrible showing this year at the Mt Diablo Ultra Half this year. I think I ended up being somewhere near an hour behind the winner which really dragged my "time back" calculation down. Time back simply means as it sounds, how many minutes behind the winner you are. Your 5 best finishes are used to calculate your average time back and I knew this race would be far better than what I did at Diablo so I signed up. 

 The reason I was so sure this race would be a better race for me was purely based on the elevation gain. This particular race is on the low side for most of the Ultra Half races with only 1760 ft of gain vs the other races that are closer to 3000 ft. The last race of the series is in 2 weeks and it is 2700+ ft of climbing and then the championship race is 2 weeks after that with 4000 ft of climbing so it is smart to run this Trail Hog to the best of your ability if you want a good showing in the series standings. I started out at 45th place in the series and moved down to 47th soon after. Hopefully this race will improve my position if I can get a fast time.

I started out in Redwood City at 6:15am and made it to the park by 7:15am. Bib pick up and restroom lines were quick and easy which is a hallmark of Brazen Racing. They always truck in enough porto-potty's and they staff the bib pick up with more than one person. Brazen had the music blasting and I did some strides on the course while my wife took my son to go play in the dirt, his most favorite thing in the whole wide world. I think she liked it too because it gave her a chance to relax after last nights Palo Alto Moonlight 10k where she did really well!!!

The race started right on time at 8:00 a.m. The beginning of this course can be very dry, hard packed with a ton of potholes (ankle rollers). If you are mid-pack or farther back you will literally eat dust for the first half mile or so. I overheard this helpful tip twice while warming up and consequently avoided the issue by starting closer to the front and running a slightly faster pace. My plan is to stay calm and relaxed without too much redlining until the second half.

The race starts with a slight uphill run out of the shoot. Then turns down for a good stretch before turning back up for the first section of climbing. This section is the worst of it because it climbs, falls a little and then climbs again at a steeper angle. I ran the entire section and made sure that if I ever felt like I was going so slow and believe me, it was slow but not so slow that a good power hike would be faster. You got to know when to switch gears and my low grinder gear worked just fine to put me over the top of this ascent around 2.5 miles into the race. You know you're at the top when you see the aid station!

The reward that comes from that climb is the nearly 5 miles of mostly rolling hills on a net downhill. I was able to keep both a high pace and a low heart rate on a lot of this section and it paid off fairly well by passing several people ahead of me without the glycogen depleting from redlining that could occur  if I just let the legs go and hit 6:30 pace down these hills. I blew through the first and second aid stations because I was using my 20oz handheld bottle. I don't know why but I put a "Pre-Workout" powder that was a free sample from somewhere long ago into the bottle. That was by far the absolute worst tasting, burn your throat, sports drink I have ever tasted. This stuff makes Hammer Nutrition products taste like 4 star restaurant food. I tried a few sips in the first half but could not deal so I opted to go without fluids which shouldn't be a problem on a half marathon.

The course turns back uphill for the next section of climbing around 7 miles into the race. Aid station #3 is at the 8 mile mark and I stopped. I quickly tossed out half my bottle and refilled it with water. Diluted has got to be better. Less than a minute and I am off. This is where the climb succession begins to add up on your legs. None of the hills are so steep that you will have to walk but they are long and you have to dig a little to keep from switching into a power hike. The water bottle proved to be barely palatable so I think I was dehydrating just a bit. No worries, the end will come soon enough.

Around mile 11 the course turns down for the last time, sort of. I say it like that because I ran pretty hard down this last section and caught up to and passed a few guys that I thought were long gone. My legs were toast between mile 12.5 and 13.5 at the finish. In that last mile you have some very slight hills that made me dig really deep to keep a good pace. I had to keep the speed up because the 2 guys I had just passed were likely right on my heels. A young girl had just blasted effortlessly past me and I was in competition mode!

She makes it look SOOO easy! (Eyes rolling)

I shoveled as much  coal into the fire as I possibly could on that last bit of climbing. I took the right hand turn that signified the beginning of the race chute and let my legs go on this slightly downhill finish. A slight left into the finish line and it was all over. 2:09:38 was my chip time. Good enough to hold off the two guys behind me but not enough to catch the girl who just shamed me with her skills. My time put me in 41st place out of 178 runners, 7th in my age group out of 22 and it moved me from 47th place in the series standings down to 32nd place. The overall winners were Nick Scalfone with a course record of 1:29:47 and Andrea Kramer with 1:55:44. See the full results here.

Next up is the Drag-N-Fly in 2 weeks. This is the 2nd hardest course I have ever ran with the first being Rocky Ridge two weeks later!!! In 2012 I finished the Grag-N-Fly in 2:33:16 and wanted to die afterwards. It will be interesting to see if I can beat that time. Stay tuned!!!!