Several months ago, Matt learned from one of his co-workers about a new racing company, Sasquatch Racing, who would be putting on a trail half marathon in Redwood Regional Park near our house. It was in April, about a month after the marathon, and it seemed like a good opportunity to take part in my second ever trail half marathon in a convenient location. Plus, the event advertised a 9:30 am start, medals that functioned as bottle openers, and beer at the end that wasn't Coors Light (and would be drunk after noon because of the late start).
So on Saturday we headed for the hills. We arrived an hour early because I was afraid of parking lines like the ones at Quarry Lakes, but there were no lines to be had, so we shivered in the fog for a long time. Finally the sun came out - still not much going on; I call this low-key racing:
Here's the start line:
After a short pep talk about following the red ribbons and who knows what else, Marathon Matt, one of the founders, walked us a few feet forward toward the line and suddenly started counting down. From 3. Okay, I guess we're starting!
I have run many of these trails before, with my typical route being a 7.5 mile loop on West Ridge and Stream trail. During the race, I got to experience several other trails. My very favorite was a hair-pin near-loop off West Ridge made up of Baccharis, Dunn, and Graham. The trails wound through several small canyons full of Redwoods. It was absolutely gorgeous! I will definitely be heading back to those trails on future visits to the park.
The first couple miles are pretty much straight up hill, and having suffered from a head and chest cold for over a week, they weren't super easy. But I have no shame in walking up hills anymore. After that it starts to get more uphill rollery rather than straight uphill, and around mile 7 there was a nice downhill on Stream. Many parts of the upper trails were sun-baked and felt like running on concrete, which wasn't fabulous.
Then another short uphill on Prince, where at the top, I was demoralized by seeing runners heading the other way, 3 miles ahead of me. I continued run-walking, walking up most of the hills no matter how steep. I had started coughing fairly often by this point, which would continue throughout the rest of the race. (It is physically difficult to run while coughing, by the way.) Finally on my way back down, I was walking up another hill but had pretty much crested it and should have been running again. A friendly hiker cheered for me by bib number. When I looked up I realized it was the TNT hike coach. I promptly started running again and thanked her for the inspiration - I was embarrassed to have been caught walking.
I was feeling pretty exhausted by mile 11 and wishing it to be over, but luckily it was nearly all downhill at that point (although quite exposed), which was nice. Most of it was so steep though that I had trouble running very fast. Here I am, arriving back at the picnic area, at the bottom of the last hill, so close to the finish:
After finishing, I promptly had an extraordinary coughing fit. Poor Matt had to dig out my inhaler as fast as possible, but it didn't help much, probably given that it was likely sickness related and not asthma related. He informed me later that people were looking at me, so I guess I embarrassed him. Alas. Eventually I was able to calm my lungs down and feel like a normal person again.
The race would have been much better had I not been sick, but I still enjoyed it. Running on trails makes me count the miles less; I simply enjoy the scenery. It was great to find the awesome new (to me) trails. At the end I was handed a giant sugar cookie with a picture of Sassy, as well as a medal that does NOT double as a bottle opener, but with a bottle opener attached. Bummer. Maybe next time.
All-in-all, it was a good race for an inaugural race. I would have liked more food at the end besides the cookie, like salty snacks. The Red Hook Beer was tasty though. They did have a signage error on the last turn, marking it with solid flags instead of swirly flags, but hopefully no one missed it. I was also confused about the aid stations because they had changed their approach since the initial course description, but that maybe was my fault.
I would do one again, if priced right, especially the awesomely-named Honey Badger Half for which I still await details.
However, while I do enjoy trail racing, I think that I will not forgo road racing completely. Because every trail run is different, with different elevation gain and levels of technicality, it is hard to judge your performance in comparison to other races. For instance, according to Strava, this race had 200 feet less elevation gain than the one in December. I finished 10 minutes faster. Is this all due to elevation gain? Who knows.
I plan to sign up for a road half marathon soon as a way to judge my fitness level - to see if I'm still making forward progress, or plateauing, or even going backwards. (Ugh, I hope not, but this is my fear.)
In addition, although I like low-key racing, I also like at least some of my races to have more excitement, like the Xterra race, and the Brazen races I did Thanksgiving weekend. I'll just keep mixing it up.
I also totally forgot to mention, since I was sitting down while writing this, that my calves have absolutely seized up and I can barely walk let alone go downstairs. I remember after Xterra being shocked about how not sore I was given the elevation gain. Not sure what in the world happened this time.