We awoke with a start to three synchronized alarms sounding off harmoniously. After a night of touring around San Francisco, sampling beer and Chinese food, we needed to make sure that our 6am wakeup call became a reality. We needed all the help we could get. It was still dark out, when Peter said the most magical thing anyone could say pre-sunrise: “Do you guys want me to run out to grab coffee?” Yes. By the gallon, preferably.
Slowly we began to warm up our bones, slithering along the walls of the hotel room in a slightly hung-over daze. We dressed quickly, in clothing that was far too cold for the time being, to go run around the mountains of Redwood City, California for the Woodside 50k. The coffee came, and we sipped ourselves back to life over avocados, peanut butter, and flatbread as we attempted to convince Crista to run with us, despite her having had a race two days before (the more the merrier, right?). The best we could get was a solid, “maybe….”
We piled into our car and reveled in the morning glow as we drove the 9 miles to Huddart Park, where Bobby, Peter, and I would run 50 kilometers though towering Redwoods, by Jurassic-looking ferns, and next to bubbling creek beds. Hailing from rocky, dry (but gorgeous) Southern California, we were giddy with anticipation to run in such a beautiful, lush green area. We arrived at the park and collected ourselves at the sign-in booths, and yes! It happened! Crista got in line for race-day registration. She received a bib and I called over to her, asking what distance she signed up for. “35k!” she exclaimed, with a huge grin on her face. Excellent.
Photo by Crista Scott
We gathered to listen to the race director give last minute directions and discovered that a large majority of people were first-time trail runners. Little did they know their worlds were about to be rocked to the point of no return. With little flair (this wasn’t a Color Run, afterall), the RD shouted a simple, “Ready, set go!” and we took off on our respective distances. Some were running 10k, just barely grazing the surface of the beauty of the park. Others were running 17k, a fun, fast course. Most were running the 35 & 50k course, and these were the runners who were truly in for a treat. Deep into the park the Redwoods stood taller, the air became still, and running in peaceful solitude became possible.
Bobby and I had agreed to stay together for the first half of the race, at a relaxed pace and enjoyed the scenery. We were graced with views few others on Earth have seen. We chatted with other runners when we happened to have some energy to surge by, finding ourselves in good company with many people from our area. They too were stunned by the expansive forest. As we meandered deeper into the woods we began to climb. After a series of switchbacks I realized Bobby wasn’t with me anymore. I waited and asked how he was feeling. Not too great, it seemed. His hip flexors would not relax and running uphill caused sharp pain. He attempted to hike the uphills but was still having difficulties. There was an aid station at the 35k turnaround where runners were given the option to downgrade distances. Bobby opted to turn around at the point, but not before hanging out at the aid station for about fifteen minutes. He cracked jokes with the volunteers and ate an unheard of amount of potato chips before heading back to run the final miles, a long rolling downhill back to the finish area.
While Bobby was stuffing his face, in great spirits about his decision, I began my journey onto the eight mile long orange loop, now completely alone. I ran for what felt like forever without seeing anybody. Then, to my surprise, I started seeing runners headed towards me. Was I going the wrong way on the loop? How could I have missed the turn? The course was impeccably marked, and you’d have to be a triathlete to miss it. You’d also have to go to a Born to Run Ultramarathon to get that joke. As I ran down the loop, I spotted Peter sprinting up towards me. We high-fived and he went on his way. I kicked myself for not asking him, but he was practically flying up the hill in a top ten position and I didn’t want to slow him down. People continued to run toward me, all smiling, each one saying something along the lines of, “good job” or “nice work” so I figured since trail runners are such decent human beings at least one of them would have told me if I were off course. Eventually I caught up to two women, running in the same direction as me. I told them how happy I was to see them, and they assured me I was right on track. Turns out I hadn’t missed the turn, and after the race Peter and I both shared the same experience of feeling lost on the orange loop.
The trail snaked further into the emerald canopy of trees, switching back over a stream several times. We went down, down, down. Running down is fun and all but in the back of your head you know this only means one thing: a big up. Suddenly the trail spat us out into a golden meadow, with expansive views of the rolling hills beyond the park. Several runners stopped to take a walk break during this section, using the change in scenery as a great excuse to slow down and enjoy the moment.
And then it happened. The Big Climb. It was time to pay the piper. I began to slowly ascend back up the orange loop, leapfrogging with other runners. I passed a woman about my age and decided I wanted to keep her behind me. I pushed hard on the smallest flats I could find, and alternated running with power-hiking on the uphills, being mindful to keep my heartrate under control. I could hear her breathing hard and I knew I could break her at this pace. I continued like this for the duration of the orange loop, and then the trail finally dipped a little and I used this opportunity to fly back down to the 35k aid station, where Bobby and I had parted so long ago. I reached the station, turned around and watched my predator quickly descend. We high-fived and thanked each other for the encouragement. She said she was thankful for the motivation. I told her I was thankful for the fear. She grabbed a few items from the aid station and then took off. Nature called, for me, so I decided to let her go and wished her well before finding some bushes.
The next section was my favorite. I retraced my original steps, back on the green loop once again. The forest was so green that it almost glowed, the redwoods once again towered, and everything became quiet. At this point the runners were spaced out, and there was no one ahead of me or behind me as far as I could see. I started jamming down, enjoying myself on the long, rolling descent. With every dip I felt my legs become energized. I began to zone out, completely at peace in the deep, quickly darkening forest, and began to look up and all around me. This was a mistake. In coastal Southern California we don’t have roots. We don’t have trees, so what good would a root do? If you step on a rock, the rock will either roll or sink deeper into the earth. Roots stay planted into the Earth. They’re stubborn. I soon learned this as I found myself flying in midair, face first into the ground. I tucked my arm in and broke my fall by rolling onto my left shoulder. I jumped up quickly and looked around. Still no one. I laughed out loud, stoked on surviving, no, completely owning my first real fall of my running career. Nothing hurt, I just had a little mud on my leg and shoulder. One would think this would’ve shaken me up but on the contrary, it pumped me up. I began running hard, this time with my mind completely on the task at hand. Occasionally, as I ran that last 11 miles back to the finish I would let out a chuckle to myself as I replayed my fall in my head.
The final miles back to the park were full of ups and downs. The sun was beginning to struggle to shine through the trees, and the air became chilly. I became increasingly aware of my desire for real food and a cold beer. This idea became my motivator. I started surging and passing people one by one, stating that there were cold ones in the cooler waiting for me and I didn’t want to be late. I think this helped to remind others of their plans with their cold ones, as they also picked up the pace behind me. As the miles ticked by I began to hear cheering. Yes! The beer was near. The trees opened up and the grassy park lawn was in sight. I sprinted as fast as my short, little legs could take me through the finish and then bee-lined it straight to the restroom. I had drank a lot of water during the race in preparation of the post-race festivities. I then made my way over to get my awesome tech t-shirt, coaster, and medal, but more importantly, my beer.
Bobby’s race ended great. His hips didn’t bother him, as the rest of his race was downhill. Crista had a great race and finished in a great time. Peter ended up finishing 9th overall. We were all dirty, smelly, and walked funny. But most importantly we were all happy. Cheers.