Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Santa Cruz Badass Run - Los Gatos to Santa Cruz CA

One of my favorite training runs takes me from my house in the Santa Cruz mountains to Santa Cruz all on trails. I documented the full tunnel run in previous blog posts (replete with tunnel pictures). Several local running friends that weren't able to make the tunnel run (or it was too long for them) asked about the shorter route right from my house to Santa Cruz. So I decided (in true ultrarunner "fatass" tradition) to hold the first annual "Santa Cruz Badass Run" from my house to Badass Coffee in downtown Santa Cruz. In addition to finishing at Badass Coffee, my favorite SC Java shop, the title of the run I hoped would preclude any whining about the limited bushwhacking, scrambling and river splashing required - a strategy that mostly worked.

Ten trailrunning speedsters gathered at my house on Sunday morning: Jean "the injured Frenchman" Pommier, Leor "fastest known ascent" Pantilat, Gary "course record record holder" Gellin, Paul "straight over it" Taylor, Alistair "bombing Scotsman" Adams, Rich "the mountain biking comic" Blanco, Brian "masters miler" Lucido, Pierre "rail rider" Couteau, Mike "Western States" Topper and myself.

Before leaving, we arranged for my friend Wendy and Gary's wife Holly to take vehicles to Santa Cruz to meet us there. We set off at 8am and within 3 minutes were down onto the trail. The caravan crossed over Mountain Charlie Gulch on a log and were on the old "Rudy Trail" logging road that parallels Mountain Charlie Gulch. Eventually this runs up to a point where you can turn right to go back down to the Gulch. An old locomotive boiler is there and that's my normal loop back home on my daily run loop. Instead of visiting that (maybe next year's Badass?) we kept straight past a timber harvest boundary and into some tall brush that covered the road. I was expecting whining at this point, but perhaps the name of this run held that at bay.

After some overgrown trail we dropped down a snowboard style slide down into a wash and scramble up the other side back onto the old railroad grade. I normally take a line that climbs gradually up the other side and led the guys over that this time. Paul somehow found a way straight up the vertical cliff (I need to have him show me how he did it).

We were stopping often to reassemble at these points but still making really good time overall. Pretty soon we hit the old Zayante Tunnel north end (what I refer to as tunnel #4, portal #7)

After bushwhacking over the tunnel hill to the other side of the tunnel (pictures of that on previous blog posts), we arrived back on the railroad grade trail. Shortly afterwards, the railroad grade runs out into Zayante Schoolhouse Road. A fence there gets you back onto the beginning of the old tracks: some of the guys stopped to take pictures there.

Once we got onto the tracks Brian, Rich, and I started really blazing (6:30 pace). We hit a somewhat scary old railroad bridge where Pierre caught up. We had done it before together and I've noticed that those crazy dangerous bridges seem to make him go FASTER not slower. After the second bridge, we stopped to wait for people at the Felton archery range sign. We crossed the range to get over to Felton via the covered bridge.

My watch had us reaching Felton in well under 1:30 and slightly under 10 miles. We stopped at the White Raven for coffee, and Jean and Gary (both battling injuries) decided to end the day there and ride with Holly to meet us in Santa Cruz.

Leor requested the "more scenic route". You can get to Santa Cruz in just 17 miles if you get back onto the railroad tracks and there's plenty of trail on both sides. But it's more interesting to instead follow trails over the hills of Henry Cowell Redwoods Park, drop down into the San Lorenzo River and come up into Pogonip Park. It's a couple miles longer that way and much more climbing. This also happens to be the Pacific Coast Trail Runs Santa Cruz course, as detailed extensively on this blog last September. It's definitely one of my favorite courses. That river crossing is just classic.

After downing our lattes, we headed out without Jean and Gary, but still eight strong down Route 9 to the Henry Cowell Redwoods entrance. From there we turned left into the main entrance of Henry Cowell and took a right on the River Trail which is the far edge of the PCTR Santa Cruz course. The River Trail is mostly flat, but runs out into the Rincon Trail which is a serious climb. Just as this starts, my Garmin 405 watch ran out. So here's the route to that point from my Garmin 405 (see below for Alistair's more complete capture of the route).

Leor, Brian and I ran quickly up the hill but they dropped me soon enough. At the top and the turnoff onto Big Rock Hole Trail we waited for everyone to gather again. On the bomb down to the river, Alistair Adams and Paul ran ahead of everyone fearlessly. When we got to the San Lorenzo I caught them and ran straight across in the thigh high current whooping and hollering the whole way, just as I did on PCTR Santa Cruz raceday. I can't help myself when running rivers like this (can we get an extended river running ultra organized some day? would anyone show?) Rich Blanco did the same and eventually caught up on the other side. We ran up the Rincon Connector trail just past the tracks to wait for everyone again, just before the Route 9 crossing.

Once reassembled I gave a minibrief of the remaining route at that point: Rincon Connector (NOT the UCon Connector) to Spring Trail to Lookout Trail to Harvey West Park and we'd meet at Harvey West. We headed across Route 9 onto the Rincon Connector singletrack: a fun little trail (inducing a few more whoops). Eventually it lets out onto the Spring Trail fireroad. Leor and Brian were moving with me on the fireroad but eventually dropped me, while I just stayed in sight. Eventually Rich came alongside and we ran together for a bit. Brian had apparently hurt himself and was limping by the time we reached the Lookout turn. But it wasn't far for him to walk until Harvey West at that point so we kept going. Pierre caught up on Lookout and Rich, Pierre and I bombed down the single track of Harvey West to the park together. We met up with Leor and waited for everyone else. Brian limped in and we asked him if he'd seen anyone. We were missing Mike, Paul and Alistair. We eventually figured out that they might have dropped off Harvey West early into the city and just navigated over to Badass Coffee on their own (I knew Alistair had his Nokia N95 with maps with him). So we took off for the one mile run over to downtown and the finish.

Even with all the breaks to regather, we reached the finish (about 19.5 miles) in around 3 hours (quite a bit faster than I expected) Once there we got some welldeserved lattes but unfortunately no sign of Mike, Paul and Alistair. Apparently they had taken the UCon Connector instead of the Spring Trail and ended up on the UC Santa Cruz campus. Here's the route that they took with Alistair's N95 (it's also more complete than my Garmin 405 - I've always said that the N95 is the world's best runnerphone) Alistair had the presence of mind to email though to let us know that they had gotten lost. I called him and we then drove back to Harvey West to rescue them and got there just after they emerged from the trail.

We drove back to my house and recounted our respective diverged adventures for the day and upcoming plans for the racing seasons. A fantastic epic day on the trails. We'll hold this again next New Year's Day, with perhaps some course markings as well.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Angel Island 25K - Tiburon, CA

This is one of just two Pacific Coast Trail Runs races that I haven't done, and the only one in the Bay area that I've never experienced. I had never wanted to wait for the ferry from Tiburon and start so late in the day. But with no injury excuses handy and no fresh snow on the ground in Tahoe, I went ahead and signed up this year.

Angel Island does three loops of around 8km each: one around the outer perimeter of the island, one about halfway up, and a third that climbs to the top of the island. Its a fast course with just 2000 feet of climbing. It seemed like running 40 minute loops (right around 7:30 miles) should be achievable, with a finish around 2 hours.

I did notice that Mike Pigg, a legendary triathlete from the 80s, was entered. I planned to try to hang on his shoulder to win the masters division. But I didn't see him at the start. Apparently he didn't start when everyone else did. I took the lead for the first mile or so. On the first climb I was passed by several young speedsters, but I stayed at a consistent pace. Probably Mike was in that pack.

I kept up a remarkably steady speed on each loop: 40 minutes for each one. On the last one we got treated to a climb to the top of the mountain where a sign said "I made it!". I finished in 2:00:53, good for ninth and second master. Mike finished about a minute ahead.

It was a beautiful day for running. But there was no soup today! (say it ain't so Wendell!) So I headed back out to the ferry and managed to be just in the first freightload back. I met former Santa Cruz mayor (and current councilwoman) Catherine Beiers, who at age 76 did the 16K in 2:25. Amazing.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Original Fatass 50K - Saratoga, CA

This race is the original fatass, as I described last year. I drove the ten miles from my house in the Santa Cruz mountains to the start at 7:30.

Fellow Ultraholic Sean Lang was there and, to my surprise, so was Flyin' Brian Robinson, all time record holder at The Barkley Marathons.

David Kamp, the race director, started us out at 8:00am sharp. We headed up the Skyline Trail to the Hickory Oaks Trail, retracing the route of both the Stevens Creek 50K and the Skyline Ridge 50K. We had a train going of myself (stopping every few minutes to take pictures) Brian Robinson, Whit Rambach, Sean Lang and Andy Benkert.

We made the turnoff to the left down Ward Road down to Portola State Park.

At the Park Headquarters, we stopped to refill water bottles and ran across some early starters.

We then made the creek crossing and got onto Old Haul Road. We made the turnoff onto the Portola Trail which connects to the Butano Trail. Its quite a climb but I was feeling good today. I led the charge up and only had Brian and Whit next to me at the top. We connected to the Big Basin Trail easement which let out onto China Grade Road. Once there we saw Winnie and Lee Jebian's car again this year. And I again dropped off some superfluous warm weather gear. We headed back out onto the Basin Trail. This connected to the Skyline to the Sea trail for the grind back up. Once we approached Waterman's Gap I started to bonk and cramp from running on just water for so long. We all hit Waterman's (the intersection of Routes 236 and 9) at 4 hours even. 4 hours for 22 miles of this amount of climbing was probably too aggressive for me and I doubt that I'll match this in coming years.

I had to take a rest and get more water from Paul Fick who had decided to run a few miles with us. Brian and Whit ran on ahead. I should have begged some electrolytes from him and fuel but I was too lightheaded to think of that. I took off at a slow trot. Eventually Andy Benkert caught back up as we approach the highway rest area. When we got there I finally thought of begging for crackers from one of the picnickers while Andy ran on ahead. I felt great almost immediately and took off back up the road. As with last year, I didn't find the trail crossing right away but was back on it in about half a mile. Apparently this was slightly ahead of Andy. I got back to the finish in 5:43 faster than I did last year.

Despite the bonk near the end, overall this was a great training run. It was fun running with Brian and Andy and getting to know them better.