Inside Trail Racing China Camp Half-Marathon Race Review

Trail racing is a different scene. It is, almost inherently, more low-key and disorganized and haphazard. For a lot of people, that’s part of the appeal of trails and ultras: that they aren’t The Man. But, that’s going to change eventually with their growing number. And, it’s going to be a big cultural battle as it does change. I fall on the side of wanting courses that are accurately marked, but am ok if we don’t have a super boom in popularity like with marathoning.

Inside Trail Racing is a new race organizer and is based around here, so I’ve been hearing about them, but hadn’t done one of their races until the China Camp one Saturday.

The Expo: Um, this is trail racing, remember. There is no expo – which I consider a plus.

Actually, there was an A.R.T. woman giving away free 5-10′ treatments after the race. I wasn’t crazy impressed about the work she did on my screwed up left hamstring at the time, but it was the only thing that didn’t hurt me the rest of the weekend. So. I think that was probably better than a whole convention center filled with bullshit freebies, on the aggregate.

The Goodies: My number one favorite thing about the race was the free photos. And. AND. My photos actually looked good! See:

Going out fast at the start.
Going out fast at the start.
Shortly after I decided not to quit afterall.
Shortly after I decided not to quit afterall.

We all know good race photos are nearly impossible to achieve, so I am attributing these works of art to trail racing and possibly to Inside Trail Racing. Definitely a plus.

We also got cute technical running shirts, a nice yellow mug, and a full supply of candy at the aid station and the finish. I guess some people want more stuff, but those are the essentials and usually I throw everything else out (except for the peanut butter that one time). I suppose I won a medal too, but I wanted to go home and I told Steve unless he comes up with something cool to do with medals I’m not taking any more of them.

The Course: I run at China Camp probably once a week and there are some trails I never run on because they’re so steep it would be stupid. No one runs on them. I think you can see where this is going. It was those trails the course went up (and down).


For a trail race, though, this is relatively standard. It’s probably the hilliest I really like to do races and yet it’s one of the flatter trail races around. It was a good combination of single-track, fire roads, shaded, sunny, bridges, rocks, etc.

The Organization: The race started 10′ late, because we waited for people to get out of the port-a-potty line, which probably sums up how things worked more or less. There was one aid station, but it operated like a pit stop, getting me in and out as quickly as possible. For all that it seemed less high-tech than other races, things went relatively smoothly.

A common complaint with trail races is the lack of course markers and the tendency to get lost, but that really wasn’t a problem this weekend. Each race distance had a different color ribbon to follow and there were volunteers at the major intersections to turn you in the right direction. Of course, I know China Camp, so I knew where I was going and didn’t even look up much — so, I suppose, other people might have gotten lost? And, when I got tired, I couldn’t remember if I was looking for orange or pink ribbons. You definitely have to stay awake for trail races.

My only complaint is that having a race on single- (or double-) wide trails that aren’t closed to the general public (runners, bikers, horses) is sort of insane. Actually, it’s completely insane. It worked out ok, but that might only be through luck. People were nice and stopped and let me run by or I moved to the side and waved the mountain bikers through while running. But, it’s good they were nice, because if it had been me mountain biking and I had to wait for 300 runners to go by I would have been less nice. And, some bikers ride those trails fast. It’s fortunate no one came around a corner and head-on collided.

I suppose that’s all part of the charm of trail running.

(Update/Edit: It’s not that I EXPECT public trails to be closed to the public, but there weren’t even signs or anything warning people buying a $3 entry to the park that they were about to encounter a race. That seems sort of messed up.)

Grade: A-

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.

What to Race This Weekend? Marin Memorial 10K v. Inside Trail’s Half-Marathon

Monday is the Marin Memorial Day 10K. I have raced this local 10K every year we’ve lived here (except last year when we were in Breckenridge) and if you really feel the need to get your ass kicked it’s the race to go to. I have nearly every year run a 40:xx and nearly every year I have been about 48th woman. The women’s course record is 33:26. So. Yeah.

This year I couldn’t decide if I should race it. On the reasons not to:

  • I’m not in shape.
  • I ran a 21:13 5K, so that doesn’t bode well.
  • It won’t be fun to go out there and be the 100th woman and get it handed to me by not just the usual Olympic hopefuls but also everyone else I normally can run with.
  • It won’t be fun to run slower than ever. For no new purpose or goal or experience.
  • There is absolutely nothing appealing about this.

But, still, I almost signed up, because it’s my local race, I’ve always done it, it’s usually a good time, and I’m currently ‘racing myself into shape.’ And, I needed to do something this weekend to keep myself motivated — but I didn’t want to have to drive anywhere.

So, instead, I have signed up for Inside Trail Racing’s Half-Marathon in China Camp tomorrow morning. I got the last open spot in the half-marathon. It has like 1,000 feet of elevation gain and loss twice, so it’ll be good practice for the Dipsea. My goals are 1. run fast and 2. try not to get as dehydrated as I felt running on Monday with Courtenay.