Sunday, October 11, 2015

Golden Hills Marathon 2015 - Race Report

I didn't want to run Golden Hills.

The whole week leading to the race, I was dreading the countdown as days passed one by one towards race day on Saturday. Normally, I wouldn't be afraid of a marathon at this point in my ultra running non-career.

I was afraid because I feel like I'm still recovering from the Headlands 50 Miler just four weeks ago, and the Berkeley Trail Adventure 50K just two weeks ago. I have never done back to back ultras, now to be supplemented by a difficult trail marathon (I know so, as I have done Golden Hills twice in the past few years).

On Monday, I had a deep tissue massage done to work on a lot of tight parts of my legs that I can't seem to fix by just foam rolling. My glutes, quads, calves, and achilles were tight. I even felt like I was having the beginnings of plantar fascitiis.

On Tuesday, I saw my sports chiropractor Doctor Kris Blum who gave me an adjustment as I was complaining about lower back tightness and applied Graston on my calves and ART on my hips and glutes. She worked wonders for me, as always, and I felt like I had a fighting chance to still do the race after I got out of her office.

On Wednesday, I did a short run, 3.5 miles instead of the 5 miles on the schedule. Better some than none, I thought to myself.

On Thursday, I met with my crew for dinner to discuss some race logistics. We were supposed to meet and discuss the pace chart and elevation chart with my Coach Mama Lisa, but an email from Norcal Ultras about a possible course change delayed the meeting. I still thought it would be good to meet some of my team members to discuss any initial questions and concerns, and I'm glad we were able to tackle them.

On Friday, I was in all out paranoid mode. I can't decide whether to still do the race or not. I even thought of calling my coach, but I didn't want to disappoint her by letting her know that I'm even considering not doing Golden Hills. I think she might have been okay with me not doing it, considering I have already completed two very difficult races. My concern for Golden Hills is that it wasn't my goal race, and I didn't want it to wreck me so close to Rio. I also, at the time, thought that a DNS (Did Not Start) would be better than a DNF (Did Not Finish) for me mentally. Of course, there was always the possibility that I could do the race, and do it well.

And so I did!

Race Day started early for me. I went and left for Lake Chabot early, so I could get a good parking spot. It also allowed me a chance to see the runners doing Dick Collins Firetrails 50, which started at the same location the Golden Hills Marathon finishes (as they do an out and back). I saw Tony and Ken, Coach Karen Peterson, and Coach Mama Lisa Felder. I even got to see fellow Ultra Fitness Beyond Imagination (UFBI) team member Alison, who was starting the race.

The Golden Hills runners take a chartered bus to the start, which is at Lone Oak in Tilden Park (the course is point to point, so it's highly suggested to take a bus to the start and leave your car at the finish). There were two bus loads of runners, but according to one of the race directors Lauri, for some reason 60 runners didn't show up for their bus (whether they opted to drive instead, it's hard to say). We had about 120+ runners at the start, I can't compare the numbers to previous years but it seemed a little lesser in number than I remembered.

After grabbing our bibs, chatting with my Run 365 friends, the race started in time at 9:00 AM. Dolores, Christina and Dawn, started around my pace and at that point, I decided to just stay with them and catch up with Run 365, as I am not officially in the group for the fall, as I am training with the UFBI team under Mama Lisa. I could have hiked up faster, but I was thankful for the camaraderie, the stories, and the laughter. I haven't been as relaxed at the start of the race in so far as I can remember. Usually I clam up immediately and get down to business.

At the first aid station at Mile 4.5 at Steam Trains, I told Dolores and team to go ahead and I will catch up. My stomach had gone south during miles 3-4, the culprit most likely being the tailwind. I decided then and there I was breaking up with this fuel once and for all, and I did so while doing my business at a nice real restroom, not a porta potty, thank goodness.

When I got out, I saw the safety sweep patrol and I was shocked to see them so early. Were we going too slow up Lone Peak, I wondered? They were equally shocked to see me as well and asked where I came from, and I sheepishly answered "from the restroom." At that point, I quickened my pace to widen the gap between them and me. Not because I was emitting noxious odors, but I wanted to never see them again for the entirety of the race.

I eventually caught up with Dolores and Christina, and then Dawn, at the next aid station at Sibley Park. I started switching to Gu Roctane, which they thankfully served, as I knew that would be better for me than Tailwind at this point. I also took a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which seemed to be agreeing with my eyes and stomach at most races so far this season. I took off and thanked the volunteers, wanted to pee, but there was a huge group of cyclists lingering near the restrooms, so I decided to just keep on going.

I forgot how steep it was going down Sibley. If I was going downhill with reckless abandon, I could probably make up even more time, but I would also risk going off the deep end. I decided to go at a measured pace, using caution rather than speed in navigating the downhill. Uphill was my strength, not downhill. I'll have to remember to work on that more later on, I thought to myself.

Skyline approached quickly and I saw more Run 365 friends, this time volunteering at the Skyline aid station. I knew the next aid station was 6.7 miles away, and I decided to just run with one water bottle today (because most of the other aid stations were just 4-5 miles apart). Given this, I gulped down 2 cups of Gu Roctane, filled my bottle with the same, ate a peanut butter jelly sandwich and forged on.

Confusion hit me twice on the path towards the next aid station. There was a trail early on, on the left, not marked with a chalk line to say do not enter. I thought it was the French trail, which we were supposed to go to, but the hiker I asked said it's further up. I checked my iPhone and Google Maps, and it did show the French trail as further ahead. I kept on going, doubted myself at times, but then eventually saw the trailhead to the French trail.

This was when the fun started. The French trail was the most technical part of the course. A lot of roots and rocks were part of the trail. If you don't watch where you step or land, you can easily twist your ankle. For some reason, I remember it being much harder previously, but during the time I was navigating it, it was actually fun! Yes, I said fun! It was also good to have the shade of the trees during this time as it was the afternoon and it was quite warm in the exposed areas of this race. The runners running Dick Collins weren't as lucky. They didn't get to run the technical trail that is the French trail, but they got the open and exposed West Ridge trail instead.

There were some more moments of confusion along the race. There was a fork where I saw a runner pondering where to go to. She said there were flags left and right, and she was right when I saw them. The chalk arrow did seem to point closer to the right, so I told her that was where we should probably go (and just sense of direction wise, seemed to make more sense). I was confident of my answer until I saw some chalk arrows pointing in the other direction at certain points. But since the other runners were still going in the direction I'm going, we "should" be right, correct? At any rate, we were validated by a young kid blowing a loud horn and telling us the aid station was up ahead (he did manage to surprise me, despite holding the accursed horn).

From that aid station, Big Bear, to Bort Meadows, it was only 1.7 miles, but it seemed much much longer. It was one of the last biggest climbs and it was on an exposed trail, and this is where I started seeing some runners slowing down (and where I also started overtaking some of them, amazingly).

Bort Meadows featured the resilient Super Hero aid station, where all volunteers were dressed up in super hero costumes. Wonder woman helped me refill my bottle with water (water seemed better just to switch out from Gu Roctane brew). I took two cups of coke and I forged on to the last aid station, Clyde Woolridge.

I was surprised to see another 50 mile runner hike up with me, and at my pace. It was Chris Jones. I knew him from a common friend, Tony Nguyen. The trail community is pretty small and mostly on Facebook so sometimes you know other trail runners by just seeing their name and picture on all your common friend's posts. Chris was one of the faster 50 mile runners, so I was surprised he was slowing down at my pace. He made some nice casual small talk about the race and running, and true to his faster running form, he vanished like the wind after we both hit Clyde Woolridge aid station.

I was so glad only 4.5 miles were left at that point. I did feel good, but I also felt like I had to pee at that point. I saw a nice restroom shed that they have at the Lake and relieved myself. The woman runner just behind me said "perfect timing". They didn't have any porta potties on the last two aid stations, so unless you wanted to relieve yourself out on the trails, you were out of luck.

The last few miles were a breeze. I can't say that I was running fast, but I was able to run the majority of it, with a few walk breaks in between to give me time to recharge and go again. I was able to overtake a few more runners in the end and sprint to the finish.

I finished with a sub 7 hour time (6:56, unofficial time). While it wasn't my fastest time on the course (my fastest was 6:02), it was the race where I felt the best all throughout, even the end. I beamed at the finish as I relished in my accomplishment.

I did it! 50 Mile, 50K, and a marathon, all in a span of six weeks. It was time for me to taper for my upcoming goal race, Rio Del Lago 100 Miler. It's time to start figuring out my strategy, my fueling plans, drop bags, and everything else to get me to that finish line.

I didn't want to run Golden Hills. But I did, and I did it!


  1. Way to go Charles! It's so great that this race turned out to be a positive experience that will help your confidence going into Rio - way to stand up and take that risk and get it done!

    1. Thanks Allen! Yes, I'm glad it all turned out okay. I just have to believe in myself more next time. Sometimes, I think I'm my worst critic. Rio, here I come!

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