After a relaxing summer with my family, I started to get a bee-in-my-bonnet this week for a nice race. I pinged my friend Kevin, but no dice. He is traveling. Carrie? Nope, she is injured. Lynn? Nope, he just doesn’t feel like it. So, knowing I was on my own, I decided to head to Woodside, CA to enjoy the Crystal Springs 50K. I had heard many things about the Woodside course, but had never run the trails.
We started, as always, listening intently to Coastal Trail Runs RD Wendell giving his pre-race instructions. There is always the moment when I think, “Am I going to try to remember the ribbon colors I follow or just hope the folks at the aid stations know where I should go?” As Wendell counted off, “Pink, Green, Orange, Pink” and various other combinations, I decided to wing it and hope for the best.
Listening to Wendell yesterday made me appreciate how many races he pulls off every year. When he said, “I usually let you run till you drop, but today the park closes at 5:00 so I need you out of here,” followed by, “There are cut off times at the second aid station…<dramatic pause>… but I can’t remember what they are…,” you couldn’t help but appreciate all that must be in his head on any given race weekend. He did, for the record, remember the cut off times.
Without further ado, we were off… The 8:30 start consisted of a 22-mile, marathon and 50K. At 9:00 an 11-miler and 5K group joined the pack.
It was chilly at the start, but I quickly learned that the course has a way of wrapping you in warmth. Yes, it was a hot day, but there were also these crazy sub-climates within the forest.
I had no performance expectations. I just got my groove, found a few similar-grooved runners and tucked into the pack. What started as a group whittled down to two by the first aid station, King’s Mountain, mile 6. I thanked my partner as he had a perfect stride and complementary pace.
While eating my orange and refueling, the volunteer commented, “You are the second woman through and the first running the 50K.” Really?! I had no idea. I thought there were a ton of women ahead of me. Well, never one to miss a potential opportunity, I bid my running mate and the volunteers good-bye and I was off again.
The course was really pretty, meandering through the redwood forests. There were only two “open” areas, and both were brief. Everything else was tall and green and shaded. With 4500′ of elevation gain, it was basically up up up, down down down, up up up, and down down down. However, very rarely was it steep.
I ran all alone for about 11 miles, just me and my iPod. I have never run an ultra with my music before. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the distraction.
Near mile 18, two women who looked fresh as daisies passed me. They were chatting up a storm while I was taking a walk break. I thought there was no way I could ever keep up with them so I just kept chugging along, duly impressed by their pace and ease.
As I ran, I completely enjoyed the sites and sounds, and frankly, being alone. I can not remember a race of this distance I have run by myself. I wouldn’t trade my running friends for anything, but I was relishing my own pace, the silence, and being in my own head. I don’t think I uttered a word for over five hours, with the exception of talking at the aid stations. To top it off, my watch died at four hours. For the final hour and a half, I didn’t even know how fast I was moving. It was heaven.
As I approached the final aid station, I spotted the woman who had passed me earlier, and was relieved I had not fallen too far behind. Out of water and thirsty as can be, I took the time to refuel and eat some fruit before heading out.
It was within a minute or so that I gleefully realized the final four miles were all down hill. Blessed be! I am crap on technical hills because I always think I am going to fall and break. But this was not technical, these were my kind of hills… lots of easy-to-maneuver switchbacks followed by maybe a mile or so of dirt road.
I had plenty left in the tank, so I just took off, grateful I had given myself a few breaks earlier in the race. I caught a guy who looked like he was having as much fun as I rocking down the hill, which made it even better. Two crazies whipping around the curves. I actually wanted to yell, “Weeeeeeeee,” but I refrained. With maybe two miles to go, I caught up to the one remaining female and I just kept trucking.
I came in at 5:35, good enough for a first place, while second place (Amanda Newell) came just over a minute later. I didn’t get to see her after the finish, but she was a super runner and knowing she was ahead of me for half the run made it more fun.
Thank you Coastal Trail crew. Fabulous day on a beautiful (and very well marked) course. Great aid stations, volunteers, post-event food and drink. I will never tire of my ultramarathon finisher coasters!