Saturday, October 11, 2008

Golden Hills Trail Marathon - Berkeley, CA

I like this race a lot for a number of reasons:
- its point to point. I love point to point races. Makes you feel like you're going somewhere and guarantees no boredom. I think its quite difficult psychologically to DNF in a point to point
- It's run on the same course and the same time as Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Miler. I'd get to be a spectator of watching elite ultrarunners such as Hal Koerner, Victor Ballesteros and Jean Pommier lay it down in the other direction (and hope that I didn't get passed by one of them on the way back as I did last year)
- It's extremely hilly with over 5800 feet of climbing on the marathon distance course. This is much hiller than the Firetrails 50 Miler which takes a slightly different route back. I love climby courses
- I had come in 9th overall and second master last year in a time of 4:14. I felt that this year, despite the car accident, I should be able to shave off quite a bit of time on that
- Its the race run by Ann Trason, the greatest woman ultrarunner ever. And she makes great soup.

I had very low expectations for performing in this race. I was rearended in a six car collision on Route 280 on Wednesday.
truck hitting the first car I was laid up the rest of the week in bed with a sore back and neck. On Friday afternoon I tried running around. And while my back and neck hurt, it didn't hurt more than sitting. So I decided to try to do the race on Saturday after all.

Last year my friend Brian had dropped me off at the start at Tilden Park. This year I drove to the start/finish at Lake Chabot (also the site of Skyline 50K and the
Lake Chabot Trail Challenge). Arriving there around 7am I then took the "bus of shame" up to Tilden Park. I say bus of shame because here we were a bunch of ultrarunners (or at least many of us on the bus were so). And instead of running up to Berkeley to run back to down Lake Chabot we were taking a BUS. I tried to feel better about it giving myself the accident as an excuse, but it was little consolation.

We got off the bus in frigid temperatures that felt to me like 40s but was probably low 50s. There was a small shred of sunlight poking through the trees and I tried to warm myself in it. I chatted with Leor, who had won this last year and set the course record in an incredible 3:19 and change.

We started out and I fell into the lead pack with Leor, Rob Elia and Ron Gutierrez. Leor quickly peeled off of us after about half a mile. I hung with Rob and Ron for a while but eventually my back started spasming and I had to stop and self-massage. Gerell Elliott came up alongside and we ran together for a while. He was a road marathoner tackling his first trail marathon. I hung with him until the next aid but he eventually pulled away. At we approached the second aid station at Sibley Park (7.6 miles), Alex Vaz-Waddington started chasing me down. He came into Sibley at right around the same time. I took with a quick break and headed back out for the 3.5 miles to Skyline Gate. Not stopping at Skyline I thought I had opened up a lead on Alex. As we bombed down the hill off of West Ridge onto the French Trail he seemed to catch up. I had to drop him on the steep climbs of the French Trail.

From there I was never really pursued until Caren Spore started catching me on the climbs of the MacDonald Trail. I'm a big fan of Caren's so I relished the opportunity to run with her. We got into mile 20 at Bort Meadows at the same time. We bombed down from that aid station to the Brandon Trail for the last 10K of the run. We hit that aid station at 3 hours even, so I new Karen was in good shape to challenge for the women's record of 3:49 set by Sarah Lavender Smith the previous year. I resolved to knock out some 8 minute miles with her to set her up for the record. We reached Bass Cove Aid Station at Mile 23.2 at 3:25. Eight miles the rest of the way would make the record for Caren. I told Caren to go do it and run ahead, while I knew I would be happy with 9 minute miles and a 3:52 finish.

I knocked out those 9 minute miles on those last few hilly miles, hoping that Caren would run 8:00 miles and not 8:01 miles. And indeed it took me 27 minutes for the last few miles, and I finished in 3:52. This was sixth overall and third master (last year it would have been fourth overall and second master). Caren missed the women's record by three seconds.

I hung around in the gorgeous East Bay sunshine, eating Ann's soup, drinking beer, icing my aching back, and cheering other Ultraholics in. These include Jean Pommier (third overall), Sean Lang, and Rajeev Patel. Jean had come in third and Sean was ninth. I introduced myself to Hal Koerner and got the updates on his recent racing. It always amazes me how approachable the stars of this sport are. Then I headed back to the South Bay for some bedrest for my back.


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