Inside Trail China Camp Half-Marathon: Race Report

Last night, I had a Bachelorette Party in the city, where we went to the most San Francisco hipster of San Francisco bars, unmarked door and no windows or lights (besides candles) and all. This is the picture from their website:

If you call one of your secret bars, that can only be gotten to behind a secret bookshelf/hidden door, The Library, well, then that's a little pretentious, no?
If you call one of your secret bars, that can only be gotten to behind a secret bookshelf/hidden door, The Library, well, then that’s a little pretentious, no?

Unfortunately, the drinks were quite good and I found $20 on the ground, so that’s almost (but not quite) two extra hand-crafted time-intensive cocktails. It’s not that I’ve never raced after going out the night before — I DID do collegiate triathlon after all and it taught us nothing if not that — and around 10 p.m. last night I stopped drinking things called The Candy Cane and Cucumber Gimlets and started drinking water. So, I really didn’t think this trail half-marathon would be any more of a challenge than it was already going to be. But, still, when I got up my head hurt and I definitely felt dehydrated.

Pounded some oatmeal and Gatorade (and a lot of water) and it seems like it worked out more or less.

My goal for the trail half-marathon was to practice running fast on trails for the Dipsea, namely to work on my descending. I had roughly in mind that I wanted to do it in 1:45 because that was the course record and also is an 8:00 pace, which seemed reasonable for 13 miles with 1,850 ft of elevation gain. I was more or less on pace for about 30 minutes, but then, well, it turns out 1,850 ft of elevation is a lot. Ended up running a 1:50.

This is the elevation chart:


For about 30′ I went out hard at the back of a group of guys and pounded down the flat-ish trail and then walked/jogged/huffed straight up this steep climb (which, coincidentally, I crashed my mountain bike on once) and then tried to keep up on the downhills. But, running downhill really fast is hard. Incredibly hard. I find it’s easy to run comfortably or relatively fast downhill, because gravity is doing the work and you can kind of tune out and get in a lull of ‘hey, this is a quick pace’ – especially if you’re behind someone going that pace. But, to really push it downhill you have to constantly keep pushing the effort, keep consciously telling yourself to go faster, so it hurts aerobically and it hurts your legs with the pounding. And, when you’re pushing it that hard and just flying downhill, you’re also constantly on the verge of falling. It’s hard.

So, I got passed by a couple of guys and a girl at this point and, suddenly, I was all alone. And, then I threw a one-person pity party.

From mile 4.5 to the halfway point, where you loop back by the finish and go through an aid station, I ran slowly and thought about how out of shape I am and how unbelievably harder and more painful it is to run fast on trails. And, how I couldn’t keep up this pace, so I was just going to blow up on the second half even worse than I already was. I was thirsty (even though I’d drunk my 10oz water bottle) and hot and light-headed. The girl who passed me was long gone and I saw no one ahead of me, but on some switchbacks I could see people a bit behind me. Well, I figured, they’ll definitely catch me, because I suck and am slow. I decided when I got to the halfway point and aid station, I’d just drop out. I haven’t even been running that far lately anyway.

But, when I got to the halfway point, I had a gel and they refilled my water bottle (quickly, too!) and I started to feel better. I did the next few miles on the flat-ish rolling trail at a faster speed — not as fast as I’d gone out originally, but getting there. When we hit the long climb, I just kept chugging along and I could see the girl behind me but she hadn’t gained any time. Then, I caught a guy in front of me who was walking. For the first time, it occurred to me: MAYBE IT SUCKS FOR EVERYONE.

So, I kept going, hoping she wouldn’t catch me — but still figuring she would because I am slow and terrible. I imagined the girl ahead of me was probably long done and eating food. I pushed — meaning I probably ran like a 7:15 mile — the downhill (which was back down the nasty steep thing we’d gone up) and the last 1.5 miles to the finish. I crossed the line in second and felt pretty wrecked.

It was only after they posted results that I found out I was actually closer to the first place girl than third place had been to me. I was only 50″ or so out of first and just over a minute ahead of the girl behind me. But, I never knew. I just assumed I was doing terrible and slow and awful at the same time everyone else was also thinking the same things. If I hadn’t slowed down and had a whole fit about how much I suck, but had just kept running, I probably could have won (or at least been more neck-and-neck).

And, that is why you don’t throw pity parties until after the race.

6 thoughts on “Inside Trail China Camp Half-Marathon: Race Report

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