Saturday, July 29, 2017

Devil's Slide Half Marathon -- 1st place

First place finishers in the half-marathon. Photo credit: Ria.

What a fun family run day at the Devil's Slide Races! Astonishingly, Claire came in first place female in the very hilly 4K and I squeezed out a come-from-behind first place male finish in the "half marathon" (really 12.9 miles but with 3050' of elevation gain) with a time of 1 hour 53 minutes. Claire won a $20 gift certificate and I won a new pair of shoes worth up to $120. Nice! It was fun seeing friends and racing on familiar trails. Jennifer had a good race in the 4K, too.

The "Hella' Hard Half" Marathon
Because my right heel was bothering me, I didn't decide until the morning of the race whether or not I would do the 11K or the 12.9 mile race. The longer race had a lot of elevation gain, going up half-way Montara Mountain before descending to near sea level and then climbing up the incredibly steep Alta Vista Trail to nearly the peak, before finally descending again back to San Pedro Valley Park.

In the morning, I was feeling good, and I wanted to race on the trails that I train on so frequently. There's no other race throughout the year that goes to McNee Ranch and the Alta Vista Trail. Today was exactly two weeks since my hundred miler and I was a bit worried that I hadn't recovered enough.

There were around 100 runners in my race. I lined up near the start, carrying 20 oz of water with a Nuun tablet (to provide salt and a great taste). At about 9:05am, we were off! The race hits a single-track trail in just about 50', so there's an incentive to get ourselves sorted by pace quickly. I arrived in 2nd place but the guy in front was clearly slower and I passed him almost immediately. Within a couple of switchbacks, three guys passed me. A mile later, as we're still climbing up the steep Montara Mountain Trail, one more guy passed me -- Stanley from my running club. I didn't realize he was so fast! Stanley had done the Tahoe Rim Trail 50 mile race two weeks ago.

My legs felt kind of sluggish, like they had a deep soreness or tired feeling to them. I don't think I was completely recovered from the race two weeks ago.

I monitored my breathing and tried to pace myself to stay strong for the later parts of the race, where we go up the incredibly steep Alta Vista Trail. I could see the guys in front of me occasionally.

Finally, we reach the top of the trail where it intersects with North Peak Access Road, where there's an aid station. I thanked the volunteers but didn't stop and made the right turn to head downhill. Finally, I felt pretty good. My legs unwound like springs and I really took off. It wasn't long before I passed Stanley. Then I passed the third place guy. Then I could see the other two running together a couple hundred meters in front of me.

I ran fast but felt good all the way down the mountain. On the steepest parts, I had to brake a lot and I disturbed my right big toe again, which I had banged up two weeks ago. Oh well.

As I arrived at the aid station and turn-around spot at Hwy 1, I had nearly pulled even with the 2nd place guy. If I had skipped the aid station, I would have been right with him, but my water wasn't going to last the whole race, and I thought it was worth taking the time to drink a cup (8 oz?) of chocolate coconut milk. Mmm... that was tasty! Onward...

I felt bad about losing time and distance to the 2nd place guy, but I tried to be patient. The hardest part of the race was coming up. I rounded a corner and heard my name being called. It was my friend Bob! Cool! He was with a small group of spectators.

As I neared the steep Alta Vista Trail, the 2nd place guy walked a bit, and I thought I would pass him, but by the time I slowly got to him, he started running again. I was out of breath. I just couldn't run this as fast as I do when I have fresh legs. (No surprise there!)

The 1st and 2nd place guys were sometimes both in sight and I once got closer to the 2nd place guy, but then I fell back. I mostly power-hiked the whole trail.

Finally, finally, I neared the top and I started running hard. There was a moment of confusion about the course, but someone was there (not a volunteer) who told me to run to the left and it made sense given the markings, but the race could have used just one more sign. (This was the only confusing spot to me in the race.) I could finally run again with some steep rocky technical downhill but then I had to head up towards the peak.

The course doesn't quite go to the very peak. There was an aid station there and I declined to get anything and now, it was all downhill to the finish. I turned around, poured on the speed and it felt good. But others were not far behind me. I came across the first place woman in my race. Some guy asked me if I was bib #239 and I couldn't take my eyes off the trail as I was flying down, so I hollered, "I don't know!". (That was my bib #. It turns out that he had predicted to his friend that I would win the race when he saw me at the start line.)

I skipped the next and final aid station, as I turned right to go down Montara Mountain Trail. I was passing 11K runners regularly. (They had started 15 minutes after my race, and ran straight to the top of the mountain.)

Shockingly, perhaps a mile later, shortly after turning right on to the Brooks Creek Trail, I came across the first place runner! At the time, I thought he was the 2nd place guy. I don't know how I passed anyone, but maybe the 2nd place guy got a little lost at the top of the Alta Vista Trail?

He was running much faster than the 11K runners, but was still slower than me. I congratulated him but quickly passed. I tried to keep up a slightly extra-strong effort for the next few minutes, so as to not encourage him to stick with me. (Sorry, I get competitive!)

I was on the edge performance-wise and started feeling really thirsty and depleted. I couldn't keep this up much longer. I passed more 11K runners and danced on the rocks around them. I stayed intently focused on the ground with occasional glances up to make sure I didn't run into a tree branch. The trail was rough with lots of rocks and roots.

Finally, the trail led to a wide smooth path and I knew the finish was near -- maybe just 400 meters away. I poured on the speed for a nice strong finish. Woo hoo!
Photo credit: Ria

I still hadn't quite realized that I had won the race. But yeah, it was real! Whew! That was fun!

I soon found out that my 15 year old daughter had come in first place in the very hilly 4K! Way to go, Claire!
Jennifer and Claire, photo credit: Ria.

Me and volunteer Ria, shortly after I finished
Results. If I had been just one minute slower, I would have finished in 6th! We were really bunched up at the end!

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