I eagerly anticipated the opportunity to race close to home in Almaden Quicksilver County Park, between San Jose and Los Gatos. So much so that despite injuring my calf severely at Capitol Peak two weeks earlier (the travails of recovering from this are the subject of another post), I decided to go ahead and do this race. I dialed back my expectations from running a 5 hour race (my training splits in the park made me think this was reasonable and would have contended for first couple of masters finishers last years) to a more moderate 5:30.
I kept my training volume very low the last couple of weeks while injured but I did manage to run most stretches of the course. And I volunteered for trail work on the New Almaden trail the Sunday before (yes, four other volunteers and I got poison oak so the rest of you racers didn't have to).
Despite a maximum elevation of under 2000 feet Quicksilver is a very hilly park. The Saturday before I ran the first stretch from the entrance past Webb Canyon to the dam, calf twinging the whole time, as my last long run, and it took me 1:20 to reach the dam. Based on this last data point it was clear that 5:30 was going to be aggressive.
I left my house at 5:00 am and drove to the race, stopping at the Starbucks just off Camden on Almaden. I should have stopped at SBUX in Los Gatos, because this one was closed until 6am on weekends! In desperation, I got them to slide me a large coffee through the door. I arrived at the race minutes before, and had to park outside the park boundary (I guess everyone did since the park doesn't open until 8am). I stupidly left my Perpetuem-filled water bottle in the car, but remembered that I would see the lovely supportive Rebecca at mile 10 so I should be OK with just water at Webb Canyon six miles in.
It was foggy but light enough when the race started at 6am. We headed up the hill of the Virl Norton trail, eventually hitting Hacienda trail and making a right. I turned on my Oakley MP3s and listened to music and relaxed for the first mile of wicked hill, a good way to not go out too hard. I was glad to have run the course or those hills might have been a bit of a shocker. After a mile or so we turned right up Hacienda Trail for still more climbing. Then after a quick bomb down the other side of Hacienda, we took a left onto the beautiful ly maintained ;-) singletrack of the New Almaden trail which skirts the parks eastern border. In my originally planned splits, I was hoping to hit the Webb Canyon aid station at mile 6.4 at 1:15. I knew I wanted to start leisurely and my calf-injured training runs to that point were running right around there. I surprised myself and got there at 58 minutes. And I felt strong, relaxed and fast the whole way, holding myself back in the face of a long day where presumably my calf could rebel at any moment. I stopped to say hi to Gene and down several cups of water before heading back out the trail. I called Rebecca to tell her I was running early and that I would probably hit the dam aid station at 1:30 (7:30am).
I saw Chuck Wilson volunteering at the aid station. He said "hey what are you doing running an ultra?!" (although Chuck got me interested in trail running years ago, I've historically only done shorter races). The fair Rebecca had just gotten there and I stopped to drink some Red Bull and grab the much needed water bottle before heading down Randoll Trail. I caught up to Keith Blom (who had also volunteered last week) about halfway down the trail. Keith was running the 50 miler but looking very strong. Later I saw he finished wel as the second 50+ guy and 12th overall. We got to the Capehorn aid station at 14.5 miles (the measuring points for posted splits) just before 2:15. This was ahead of my planned schedule so I let Keith go on ahead. In the meantime I lingered with the helpful volunteers and ate some yummy potatoes (they didn't have any at the dam aid station) and drank some coke before heading back up the Mine Hill Trail. I got back to the dam at 3:00 even and sat down for some more Red Bull and pretzels and ibuprofen. I'll have to get some better food ready next time (potatoes and chicken soup?) since I didn't really eat much this whole race.
Then it was back down the Guadalupe Trail past the reservoir wall "back way" where I usually start my training runs from, and down the Senador Mines loop to the busy McAbee entrance. Then back up Mine Hill to the dam again. I fell in with Jeff Popov, who was also doing the 50M. I had been doing this loop regularly in about one hour, so I told Rebecca that I'd see her again in an hour: parting was such sweet sorrow. Again, I was pleasantly surprised and hit the aid station again at 3:50 and Rebecca insisted I take some pretzels with me before the last killer climb (though I couldn't muster the appetite to eat them after all). I headed up the hill with Jeff for a while and then took off to run on the heels of some other faster 50 milers. This was some of the most beautiful part of the course, high up in the sunshine overlooking the Guadalupe Reservoir to the west. I got over the hill and down to English Camp at 27 miles at around 4:33.
Just a little more than four more miles to go. Given the lack of net elevation gain I thought that I could easily do 9 minutes and finish up in 5:10. But this was the one part of the course I had not yet run. I didn't realize quite how hilly this last part was. More specifically, a quad busting freefall down and then a long brutal climb back up. I hadn't mentally prepared for this and for the first time slowed to a walk on that last brutal long uphill (something I don't normally do). Something about starting to walk might not have been good. Once I did try to run again, my soleus (the "side calf" which I had strained at Capitol Peak) started cramping and I had to stop to stretch it out with soleus stretches (something I didn't even know how to do before I injured it two weeks ago). From that point on, uphill running was just too painful. I finally got to the top after walking 12 minute miles for those couple miles and then let myself pound my quads into jelly on that last downhill. I came across in 5:18, better than I had planned. I was fourth master and I believe fourteenth overall. It was great to have a day of fun running on a beautiful challenging course (the exact kind of terrain that I like) when I thought I might not have been running at all.
On top of that there was free good beer at the finish and ribs and burgers cooking. What could be better? I chatted with Dale Reicheneder, who had made the trip up from LA for the 25K, and won overall! Scott Dunlap was there as well. He had placed fifth with an amazing 4:37 time. Rebecca used Dale's camera to film a video snapshot of the 2004 through 2006 Trail Runner Magazine overall champions (Scott, Dale and I) comparing notes on the race. Hope to get a copy from Dale to post here. After a couple beers and some ribs in the glorious sunshine Rebecca and I headed off to a nearby recovery meal at the Wine Cellar in Los Gatos. My quads were shrieking on the walk from her house over. We downed a good pinot as I tried to forget that next week's Ohlone was going to be 8500 feet of climbing and even more abuse to my soleus and quads than I experienced this week.