This is how I felt at the end of yesterday's "Berkeley Trail Adventure" 35K race, held by Inside Trail Racing. It was an odd contrast to the Coastal 50K that I just completed the weekend prior, and where I felt a lot better going into it and on finishing it.
The race was sold out at all distances 10K, Half Marathon, 35K and 50K. There were an estimated 300 runners signed up for the race. It was another reunion of sorts for me as I saw a ton of trail runners who I knew: Coach Karen, Gabe, Shawna, Char, Sean, Laura, Mindy, Pen, and Monica from Run 365; Patty, Laura, Alina, Jennifer, Brian, Leigh-Ann, Kate, Karen G from previous trail races and runs; Amadeo and Angela from SF Tri; a lot of other friends and familiar faces who I might have failed to mention.
I think I might have pysched myself silly going into this race. I remember vividly the harried looks of the runners passing the Big Springs Aid Station last year of the 35K and 50K runners. I also know the toughness of Inside Trail races given previous races I've ran (Stud and Mud 25K, for example). I started with a lump in my throat and made my fear of this race gnaw into me slowly but surely. It's amazing how much mental attitude and fortitude can make or break your race.
The 35K course had a total elevation gain of around 4600 feet. That is a ton of climbing for a 35K (21 mile) course. From the very onset we had to climb a couple of big hills after a short flat run. I stuck with the strategy of warming up for the first 5K as my coach had instructed. Not that I had the option or gall to run up the first few monster hills, at any rate!
Brian, who just finished Headlands 100, usually runs quite faster than I do, but he decided to hang back as it's his recovery run and ran (or more apt, power hiked) with me up Selby, Redwood, and Volmer Peak. He disappeared quite shortly when we hit the downhill on Seaview Trail. I would have tried to keep up with him and I'm usually faster downhill. What gave me pause on the downhill was all the jagged rocks littered on the trail. I usually have confidence blasting downhill, but I'm better with a flat (even semi steep) downhill. The rocks gave me pause as I didn't want a tumble going into Dick Collins Firetrails 50 in two weeks. Coach K actually experienced it but she's a badass so I doubt she's shaken by the whole thing (she kept on going and even beat my time by quite a margin).
Seaview had some spectacular views, and I was tempted to get my phone out and take pictures (I have never been to this part of Tilden). I hesitated but I moved on. I wanted to keep to my method of not taking pictures while racing.
After Seaview we had a loop around Curran, Wildcat Gorge and Meadow Canyon. I saw Sean briefly as he emerged from that loop and turned left, while helping Laura and another runner get their bearings as they emerged from the other side of the loop, but they didn't start correctly. They ran with me for a while before blustering on with their speedy selves.
After I emerged from Meadow Canyon, I started to head back out. I didn't think I needed to turn left, because that was going to Wildcat, where the 50K runners were going. I hesitated though, because Tim had mentioned Nimitz way at the race announcements (it's a good thing I listened). The run felt short if I was already heading back. Fortunately I saw Kate and Coach K emerge from the loop and head left. I almost cut my race short (and probably surprised other runners in the process if I did so, by finishing a lot earlier than them).
I ran with Kate from then on until the turn around at Nimitz way and back to the aid station. This part of the course was exposed to the sun and paved, which didn't win a lot of the runners going through the course at that time. This is also where I started feeling tummy issues and a little nauseated. I don't know if it was the combination of tailwind electrolytes (which I didn't care of, as it tasted like bitter water), and the peanut better jelly sandwich (which I cared for at first, but the second serving later on I took barely a bite of). I was bad again at my nutrition and drinking today (I felt semi bad at Coastal, but I was eating more voraciously there). I now wonder if something in that pasta sauce I ate the night before ruined my stomach. I have a feeling that could have been it (that or, having had too much caffeine for weeks, I usually have 2 cups in the morning and 1 more at times during lunch).
Kate was nice enough to slow down with me and be my unofficial pacer for the stretch. We chatted about anything and everything. We saw Char, Gabe, Shawna and Coach K heading back from the turnaround, so we weren't too far behind at that point. I did tell Kate that I was slowing down quite a bit and she can go on her merry way, but she was nice enough to keep me company until the Big Springs Aid Station. She even waited as I took care of business (yes, I blessed the rest rooms near Nimitz Way and they were actually nice and not stinky!).
I breathed a sigh of relief that we weren't going up Seaview as that would have been quite a climb. That sigh turned into a curse though as I quickly passed Big Springs Aid Station, where I volunteered last year, to see Lupine Trail. Lupine Trail was one hell of a climb. Erica and I climbed it and both her and I had to stop several times. Erica was doing great, considering it was her first 35K, first trail race, and she had only done flat road half marathons previous to that. Bonus points to her for doing two loops around Curran, Wildcat Gorge and Meadow Canyon. She was cursing the hills and there were a bunch of young guys smiling as we wound up the hill (they let us through).
Erica started running again once we went down Volmer and Grizzly Peak, but about two miles left into the course, I caught up with her. Her quads and hamstrings were acting up (for good reason). I was still nauseous at that point. We both decided to power walk together even though it was just flats and downhills. Better to keep moving forward than to stop.
When we reached the last mile, I asked if we should start running, even at a slow pace, to finish strong. So we went, both pushing each other to run the last stretch. It felt a little longer than usual, as my watch clocked in at 21.3 at the end, but we did finally find the finish line and went for it. I didn't feel necessarily competitive so I let her go through first. Interestingly enough, on the timing chip, I think she started just a few seconds before me so officially I beat her by a few seconds. I was actually more happy running in with her. I congratulated her for a great race and I told her previously that I hope it doesn't scare her out of trail racing (I have a feeling I'll see her again, but maybe it might be a few weeks before she tries it again, but armed with better information, like carrying a water bottle and reading the trail map).
All in all, not my best race, but something to learn from. My ego was bruised going into Dick Collins Firetrails 50, but this was a training run after all and better to figure this out on this race than Firetrails 50 in the next two weeks.
Shaken, but not stirred!