Sunday, January 12, 2014

#14in14: Cyrstal Springs Trail Marathon

I wish I had a really good reason why I picked this particular race to be my first trail marathon other than it was the one of the first ones I came across that was in January, relatively close to Sacramento, and fell on a weekend that worked. With that being said I am very much excited about this being my first trail marathon, after running 17 road marathons.

After running Crystal Springs Trail Run Marathon, I am now a big fan of the race organizers, Coastal Trail Runs. They are very well organized and put on a great event, not to mention they do a morning of race packet pick-up. This makes it really nice to only have to arrive at the race and get everything in hand right before it starts.

Saturday morning, I headed out of Sacramento fairly early with my friend Rachelle who also ran the marathon. We planned for about 2 hours of travel time to Huddart Park in Woodside, CA. After a fill-up of gas and a pit stop we got into the park just after 7:40AM. This gave us enough time to get our gear picked up and get our packs sorted and shoes on before the 8:30AM start which would include the 50k runners, marathoners, and 22-milers.

Once we got ourselves sorted out and checked the packs, pockets for gels and hydration goods, we were now good to go and head back to the start which was about 100 yards away from where we had parked. The start would be a gun start next to the finish / packet pick-up area.
the starting area
The last few months, rather than having my Garmin do an auto lap, I have been doing the "laps" manually during training and races. For this race, I had decided to hit the lap button on my Garmin after exiting each aid station. Having paced trail runs, I have noticed that working from aid station to aid station would be easier from a mental stand point than counting down miles. Below are my splits from my Garmin using this system (yes, the total distance is less than 26.2 miles because somewhere along the course I was losing GPS signal):

While my pace was a bit all over the place, you can basically line it up with the elevation map from my Strava page.

Now let's break down the race ...


Start to King's Mountain
The start like most other trail runs was a bit crowded, it went from an open space area at the park to dropping into a single track trail, within the first 1/4 mile or so. Luckily, this area on the trail was a downhill so it allowed for people to keep moving, after about the first half mile, the trail opened up a bit and people let others pass during the climb. The first section would be essentially up hill until we got to the aid station, with a few little dips.

One of the key parts with running a trail marathon that I wanted to focus on was keeping my calories coming since I would be on my feet longer than I would be if this were a road race. So every 45 minutes - 1 hour I was taking in either one of my fruit bars or gels. I was also keeping myself hydrated through the course as I carried a hand held bottle filled with electrolytes (Nuun Kola Cola) and kept another bottle on my pack that was just plain water.

For this section I was feeling pretty good and ran conservative, there were a number of people who passed me during sections of the climbs, where I had opted to walk. I realized that if the effort of walking was equal to that of running up the hill, then I am better suited walking and saving some of my energy for later in the race. The last thing I wanted to do was have my legs break down this early in the race.

Once I got to King's Mountain, I had them top off my handheld water bottle and I was quickly on my way for the second segment of the race. I spent less than 1 minute at this aid station as they checked my bib number.

King's Mountain to Bear Gulch
Right after getting out of King's Mountain, I saw a couple of runners that had passed me long ago on one of the early climbs in the first section. With a portion of this segment having some downhills, I was able to quickly pass many of these runners and started to track a few others during this segment. This area was all single trail but not very technical, in fact most of the course really wasn't overly difficult. There were a couple spots of muddy areas and some tree roots that came about in this area, but nothing that caused me any concern or slowed me down. As I started to come closer to the Bear Gulch aid station some other runners were starting to head back towards me on the single trail, since they were flying on the trails, I gave way and stepped aside.

During this stretch I was a bit confused how they could be flying that quickly, but then remembered that there was the 22-mile distance which had a turn around at the next aid station.

At Bear Gulch, I had them top off both of my bottles again and through down some of my gel. I was a little slower getting out of this aid station because I asked them which color ribbons I was to follow for this portion of the race. They also informed me that this section was a loop so my next aid station would be the same one I was just about to leave.

Bear Gulch to Bear Gulch loop
This section opened up and was no longer single trail, rather it was dirt paths. A full loop taking me 4.23 miles back to the aid station where I just came from before I hit the "return" signs to the finish. This area, I really started to pick off more runners, every runner at this point running in the same direction as I were also running the marathon, while those running opposite were the 50k runners who would essentially run a double loop.

Some of the downs that accompanied this section of the trail would allow me to use differing muscles and let me throw down some faster (or what I felt to be faster) running. To be honest these downhills were a relief as I started to get a little tired attacking some of the hills I am not familiar with. There were portions that felt like they were never going to end as they just kept going up.

About halfway through the loop the climbing started again. I would see more runners through this section as some started to look like they were struggling to get up the hills. With my legs a bit tired, I opted to do a run for 4 minutes walk for 1 minute to get this climb. By running conservative I knew I could be able to hold strong for the remainder of the race.

With the final climb completed in this loop, I was back to the aid station where I topped off my water bottles and consumed another gel and fruit bar to hold me over to the next aid station at King's Mountain which was about 5.7 miles away.

Bear Gulch to King's Mountain
I left Bear Gulch and headed to the final aid station before making my way to the finish. During this stretch I would see other runners coming towards me on the single track as they were heading up on their marathon, 22 mile or 50k run. Portions of this stretch became pretty lonely as not too many runners were in sight, I think from my end most of my passing of runners was done on the loop.

On the way back to King's Mountain the only thing to really report on this segment outside of some tired legs, occurred around mile 18.5 where I was stung by a bee. This slowed me down a bit because I checked my shoulder and provided a bit of discomfort. Once I sorted it out I was well on my way again to tackling this section before hitting the final aid station.

As I started to wrap around the final portion before hitting the road crossing I saw a couple runners at the aid station. With a couple runners at the station, I started to think, if I could get in and out of this aid station I could possible pick off a couple more runners. One runner was out right as I was closing off my water water bottle. The other runner was still sorting things out and honestly, he looked like he was struggling a little bit.

There I went leaving King's Mountain to make my way to the finish line.

King's Mountain to Finish
With the runner who left the aid station just before me no where in sight, I was running most of this portion of the trail on my own. This stretch was mostly downhill and would allow me to average my fastest miles on the course (based on my Garmin Connect screen shot above).

This section of the course was dirt trails with the second half of the segment being mostly pavement. Once the pavement opened up, I knew the finish line was getting closer. Through this stretch I only came across one runner, who I passed. After seeing a couple parked cars, I knew the finish line was just around the corner at this point. Perhaps one of the most interesting parts was running through a play area (swing set & slide), before running up to the finish. When I passed the swing set, there were kids swinging on them.

After crossing the finish line with an official time of 4:13:06, I was presented my medal and found out that I finished 2nd in my age group.


While waiting for Rachelle to finish I headed to the car to get changed and layer up. It was getting a little cool in the finish area and some rain drops started to come down. The finish line was fully stocked with a ton of snacks, soup, hotdogs, and beverages (including an ice chest of beer, for folks to just grab some out of). 


This course was amazing, granted it was my first trail marathon, I am a fan of Coastal Trail Runs and their race. I will be for sure looking at running one of their races in the future. Going into my first marathon of 2014, I honestly didn't have too many goals in mind except for 1) run smart and 2) enjoy the course. I felt like I was able to do both of these goals in my first of 14 marathons I will try to tackle in 2014.
photo from CoastalTrailRuns.com (King's Mountain by Tan)

2 comments:

  1. Wow! Sounds like a great event and that you had a great race (minus the bee sting). Good thinking taking it conservative at the beginning :)

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  2. I heard a guy say that quite a number of people got stung by a bee. There was apparently a hornet's nest right on the trail.

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