On Saturday, I ran what may be my last race of this season – Lake Chabot 50k with Coastal Trail Runs. I came in 3rd place! It was a pretty challenging run – probably the most objectively difficult of the courses I’ve run this year – but easy for a 50k, and encompassed everything I like best about trail 50ks. The scenery was gorgeous, the weather was perfect, my fellow runners were all wonderful people, the location wasn’t too far away, and Coastal Trail put on a perfect event (as usual – thanks Leng and Wendell!).
The race started at 8am, and I arrived at the start line just in time to see a beautiful sunrise. I met some of the other runners and said hi to Leng, one of the race directors, who is just a wonderful person. At the start line, Wendell gave his usual pre-race briefing about the course markings, and what each ribbon color meant – it’s been about two years since I’ve run once of these courses, so I paid close attention. The course was pretty easy to understand conceptually, but it is easy to get lost on trails if you aren’t paying attention. We would run a half marathon loop twice, then do a five mile loop at the end.
All of the races distances, except the 5 mile race, started at the same time, so while we were lined up at the start, I got to play my favorite game of “what bib color are the other race distances?” This is an important activity pre-race, because knowing what distance another runner is running when they pass you can be important psychologically. For example, if a green bib passed me, I knew they were only running the 30k distance, so it would make sense that they were moving faster than I was. Today, 50k runners were wearing blue bibs.
After Wendell’s countdown, followed by his traditional exhortation to “Have fun out there!”, we headed out onto the course. The first mile and a half of the half marathon loop were on a rolling asphalt trail, which was pretty easy to navigate. I ran almost all of this section.
After the asphalt section, we entered into a steep climb on a dirt fire trail. I hiked most of this, as it was quite steep, and ran where I could. Along this part of the course, I got to know some of the other runners. There were a lot of women running the 50k who were all clustered together at this point, and we leapfrogged each other quite a bit depending on our speed at various points. I’m a pretty slow uphill runner/climber, so usually got passed on those parts, but my downhill speed is pretty excellent, so I would catch up then.
I skipped the first aid station around mile 4 and then flew through the next several miles of downhill.
At some point I fell into step with a woman named Audra – we started by talking about Montara Mountain, which also has a 50k race. I had run Montara Mountain 50k with Coastal back in 2011 and had finished in 7:38, which somehow yielded a first place medal. This was by attrition – the weather was so terrible I think everyone else had dropped out. It was so bad that I had blocked out everything about it from my memory and have never been back to that course, even though I’m sure it isn’t as bad as I remember!
In any case, Audra tried to convince me that Montara was a series of trails worth revisiting, and we got to chatting for the next several miles. She was extremely fast on the uphills, so I was pushing to keep up with her!
We finished the first loop together, and started on the second loop, which we were able to do a few miles of together before she turned off to finish the five-mile loop and complete her 30k.
As I reached the top of the big climb for the second time and hit that aid station, one of the aid station volunteers let me know that I was in 2nd place for women. I knew I probably couldn’t hold the same pace I’d been going at for the next 15 miles, but I would feel disappointed if I didn’t at least give it a try, so I kicked up the pace for the next several miles of downhill.
At the short turnaround around mile 17, I was able to see the women behind me – there were about 3-4 within five minutes of me, so I didn’t have a lot of wiggle room and couldn’t really slack off. My legs were feeling pretty fatigued at this point, so “slacking off” was a very compelling option that I was thinking quite a bit about.
Around mile 24-25, I was passed by another woman – she was going at a much brisker pace than I, and I had no chance of keeping up!
I passed through the start/finish line to mark completion of the marathon distance, and headed out for the third and final loop. The last loop was just five miles, and required a climb partway up the big hill again. I was trying to calculate how the math worked on this, because it felt like the big hill was … very long. It turns out the connector after the hill to the return was much shorter than I anticipated, and soon enough, I was on the home stretch running towards the finish line.
Periodically I would look back to see if anyone was behind me, because I knew I was in 3rd place and didn’t want to lose it with just over a mile to go. At one point, with a mile left, as I was rounding a corner, I saw a woman behind me. I immediately turned on the afterburners and “sprinted” to the finish line, coming in 3rd by just 14 seconds!
My “sprint” was a 9:30 pace, but after a bunch of 11:00/11:15 miles, it was definitely a push. The Strava details are here.
The first place woman finished in 5 hours, and the second place woman was in 5:41. I came in at 5:45, so there wasn’t a great chance of me having caught either of those other two woman. Several woman finished less than five minutes behind me, so I felt good about my “war of attrition” effort.
This was a fun way to revisit a course that I’ve done well on in the past, and a great way to cap off a fun season.
I’ve been taking a few weeks off of running (amazing what that can do for injury recovery…) and look forward to more racing in the coming months.