Race Report: Summit Rock Half Marathon

December 2010

Or: It’s actually sunny today, you just have to get up to about 3,000 feet.

In the past six weeks or so my long runs on the weekends have been hovering around 8-10 miles, so when I saw the date for the Summit Rock Half Marathon I figured it was time for a challenge. A challenge is definitely what I got:

I enjoy trail running more than road racing, and this course did not disappoint. Comprised mostly of single track trails, it was in remarkably good shape despite the regular rain in the area the previous week. Race morning arrived overcast and 55 degrees with some bits of light fog blurring the view down the trail into the redwoods. Perfect running weather.

The gun went off and it was immediately clear who was going to cross the line first. Within 100 yards he had opened up a noticeable gap on the rest of the field and we didn’t see him again until he passed us on the way back, on his way to a 10-minute win. He’s not even in this picture:

Behind him, though, a fluid pack began the 1,300’ initial climb. The pace was measured as everyone was fully aware that at the top of that hill, a 10 mile trek remained. The ‘lead’ changed hands multiple times; I held it for a while, through the 2-mile mark, but at each switchback I could see the pack churning its way up the trail. I regularly forced myself to slow down, which proved to be a wise decision.

A welcome stretch of flat terrain greeted us at the 3-mile mark, as well as some views to the east. By this point they sun had come out, but I realized that it wasn’t really a matter of the sun coming out but rather the trail picking up enough elevation to get above the cloud cover, as the valley was still blanketed in gray.

It was around here that I began trading places with a super-friendly Australian woman, as well as the “Vibram guys,” as I had internally dubbed the two runners who were sticking close together and who were both wearing Vibram Five Fingers. The constant undulations and variety of the trail meant that there was a lot of passing and catching as runners’ different strengths were emphasized.

A long, gradual downhill before the turnaround provided an opportunity to stretch out the legs but also a reminder that we would have to gain all of this back on the way home. After that climb, though, there would only be about three downhill miles left, and so on the way back I tackled the hill in earnest. I still felt okay at the top and starting really flooring it once gravity was in my favor again. We were back under the cloud cover again and there was now heavy fog mixing in with the redwoods, which seemed to accentuate the already-strong smell of the forest. I don’t know that I’ve ever flown past a 10-mile marker in such high spirits.

The strategy worked, but barely. At around 12 miles the course flattened out and suddenly even level ground was a challenge. The half mile from about 12.3 to 12.8 felt like the longest of the race, and I started desperately trying to remember landmarks from the opening mile. This picture is from that stretch. I am not a happy camper.

One landmark, a 100-yard stretch of grassy trail, had unfortunately turned to slop under the tread of a few hundred racers, making for some slow and painful going. Shortly after that, however, I could hear the finish - at that point I knew I was going to make it in.

In the finish area I managed to somehow accomplish my next goal, which was to not vom (inverse of “nom”) all over one of the volunteers or other racers. For a while it was equally uncomfortable to sit down or stand up, so I alternated between the two while doing my best to approximate a glucose drip using the sugar-water du jour. These guys also helped matters:

By the time I had recovered enough to care, the results had been posted and I found out that I had taken 10th in the men’s race (about what I estimated) and 2nd in the 25-29 age bracket (that one I didn’t bother trying to estimate, it’s impossible to guess most runners’ ages, especially during a race).

A big thanks to Brazen Racing for putting on a great event. They did a superb job allocating resources - a minimal amount of people on a clearly marked course, and massive amounts of food afterwards. After doing this one I have a renewed desire to do the Dipsea next year - here’s hoping I get a slot.