The Chabot Trail Challenge & Woodminster 9-Miler Race Reports

These are so overdue it’s not even funny, so I’ll just cut to the chase. The Chabot Trail Half and the Woodminster XC are the second and third races of the East Bay Triple Crown Trail Championship and my goals for the races were super ambitious yet tempered with the idea that I’m not going to hang my head in shame if I didn’t hit my goals. Races disguised as hard training runs are like that; it’s a good place to over-reach, if you’re into that sort of thing.

THE HALF: I haven’t run a trail half since May of 2012 so I kind of forgot what to expect. I mean, a trail half marathon with about 1800 feet of climb is going to hurt just as bad as a 20-mile training run done at a moderate pace, so I figured either way I’m getting another hard long run in.

I also had been battling a cold the week before, missing a few days of work and praying that I’d be able to toe the line come Sunday. The cold went away but I was left with a lingering sinus infection that in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have started the race; so says the doctor I finally went to see the day after, the one that put me on antibiotics and told me running really hard wasn’t a good idea. Well then, my bad.

I woke up and had some black coffee, took a hot shower to loosen my nasal congestion and left the house feeling pretty decent- I picked up my buddy Jimmy and we cruised over to Lake Chabot together. I drank about 250 calories of Vitargo about 45 minutes before the race, did a little one mile warm up and peeled off my outer layers- the sun was out and I thought, damn- it might get warm.

We started, and as usual I went out with the first 10-15 runners, settling in with Jimmy and my buddy Lucas and the two high school kids that finished right behind me at the Tilden Tough Ten. One of those kids is a 4:40 miler, so mad respect- I’ll never hit that pace for anything longer than 200 meters. We started to spread out along the bike path and I stayed with Lucas and Jimmy until the first big climb, up Lone Oak. Lucas started to pull away from us and a minute or two later I pulled away from Jimmy. This climb was brutal and I was unprepared- road marathon training has completely killed my hill climbing legs.

Anyway, things flatten out along Brandon Trail as you run by that god-awful gun range (there’s nothing more unsettling than hearing blast after blast of rifle rounds); it’s really just a series of mellow rollers here on wide fire roads. Jimmy caught back up to me around here, so did the high school dudes. There was a long, steady descent that I was able to drop sub-6 pace for almost a mile, opened up a gap on those guys, still couldn’t see Lucas- he must’ve been flying!

I felt great for the next 5 or 6 miles; down across the Stone Bridge and then powered up Jackson Grade, a long mellow climb to the aid station (I think mile 8 or 9) then around mile 10 the wheels started to come off a bit. First Jimmy passes me looking very strong. I tried to go with him but the mild heat was killing me. Then, a small gnat flew in my eye. Then my calves got super tight and I started cursing my shoe choice (I wore the Nike Zoom Streak LT2’s, basically a lightweight XC racing flat).

So I basically made a choice, and that was to say fuck it and just run- I’ve been through worse, way worse. I’ve experienced bloody nipples, shin splints, the loss of toenails, being without water for 6+ miles on the Olmstead Loop when it was 99 degrees, running all day and all night (yep, two damn sunrises!), I’m pretty sure I can deal with all this.

So I did, I ran with that gnat lodged in my eye, the sweat burning and stinging from trying to get it out while running, that sinus infection, my uncooperative calves; everything that was bothering me at that moment was really small potatoes.

I wanted to hit marathon pace on this last section, there was minimal elevation difference here so I thought I’d be able to hit somewhere around 6:45 pace but alas, I came in with an 8:22 (yuck), a 7:20 and a 7:25. I thought, so what? The only person to pass me the last half of the race was one of my favorite people in the entire world, good for him (seriously- that might sound sarcastic but I was genuinely happy I was passed by a friend and not some iPod-listening-and-Nike Free wearing cross fitter) so the fact that I couldn’t hit pace just meant I needed to train differently. Or maybe not run with a severe sinus infection.

I crossed the line with a 1:43:44, good enough for 14th overall and 13th men’s, and another 2nd place finisher medal for the 35-39 age group, I swear I have like five second-place finisher medals from Coastal and Inside Trail races. It’s become such a thing I was temporarily nicknamed “Deuce” after the race by my friend Steve who was there to cheer his wife Kelly on, but alas, the name hasn’t stuck.

Those sunglasses though.

Those sunglasses though.

So I wanted to run somewhere around 1:34-1:37, but that’s the breaks. I felt pretty good about my combined time for this race and the Tilden Tough Ten with a 2:51:29- so I had a new goal for Woodminster of running a 1:08:30 to go under four hours combined for the Triple Crown. That brings us to…

THE WOODMINSTER: Coming just 14 days after Chabot, the championship of the three races- the 50th annual Dick Houston Memorial Woodminster XC Race. I took two days off of running after Chabot (and three days of work) so I was both looking forward to racing again yet apprehensive- my sinuses felt pretty wrecked through the next weekend so I eased myself back into training with a couple easy 6-milers and then a 5 x 1 mile (first 4 at a “moderate” pace, last one at marathon pace) on Friday then a brutal 20-miler on Sunday, a Jack Daniels-inspired tempo-long-tempo (TLT).

It’s a gnarly long run/workout, basically 3 miles of warm-up, then 3 miles at tempo (which I couldn’t quite hit, was 41 seconds off) then an hour easy, then 3 miles back at tempo (I couldn’t even hit marathon pace for the second part, was probably a good 3 minutes off) then a 3-mile slog home.

After being put on a 10-day round of antibiotics plus a new allergy medication (Flonase; I’m now a steroid user!) I was wary of going too hard at Woodminster, but I figured I was 9 weeks out from Santa Rosa and a hard effort now might save me from a hard effort later- better to hurt a little now in the fundamental period than hurt in the sharpening period leading up to the race.

I had two workouts scheduled the week before WXC, one was mild and the other pretty tough- Tuesday was an easy-progression-easy (3 easy, 3 miles at MP speeding up to 5k pace, 3 easy) and Thursday called for some ladder intervals on the track (1-2-3-2-1-2-3 minutes at 5k-10k pace with equal recoveries) which really beat me up.

Then my ego got the best of me and I spent the next two days attacking a bunch of local CRs on Strava segments, so of course I showed up at the start line already tired come Sunday morning.

But this was kind of the point; I have to learn how (rather, I’m “teaching” my body how) to run hard when it really hurts. That last 10k of the marathon is where this most recent round of training is focused; my success at Santa Rosa hinges on my ability to push through the discomfort and embrace the suck.

So, the day of the race. It was actually me and my wife’s wedding anniversary, so we had a whole day planned after the race. The fact that she even let me run on such a day was huge, that’s a testament to her awesome support. I owe her big time.

Talking to Jason, another Excelsior guy, right before the start.

Talking to Jason, another Excelsior guy, right before the start.

The Woodminster is a handicapped race, with the first runners going right at 9 am, it’s the older men (65+) and little girls (under 12, which is a weird combo, right?) and the 45+ women. Then four minutes later the 35-44 women go with the 60-64 men. After another four minutes the 12 & under boys go with the 13-34 women and 55-59 men. Then the 45-54 men, then my group (the 35-44 men) and finally the “scratch” runners, 13 to 34 year old men.

My buddies Lucas and Jimmy were also there, and if I remember correctly we were all either in the top ten or knocking on the door of the top 10 for the Triple Crown. Those guys started in the scratch pack, so another goal I had was to not let those guys pass me.

The first time I ran the race (2012) I was passed less than two miles in, by local Marin speedsters Alex Varner and Gus Gibbs. I ran a 1:22:23 but was somehow listed at the wrong age (42) and the wrong time (1:34:23).

The next time I raced (2013) I was passed just under 3 miles in, so I was making progress- this time it was those same two guys plus Matt Laye. I ran a 1:13:03 and felt good about improving nine-plus minutes from last year, or about a minute per mile. I finished 29th overall, 27th men’s division.

...and we're off!

…and we’re off!

This year, it was right after three miles (Ivan Medina and Sam Robinson caught me this time) and I felt good about that, still improving. I felt as though I was in 1:07 shape today and as long as I stayed close to my target pace of 7:30 per mile, I’d be okay. I knew I could absolutely hammer the downs somewhere south of 6-minute pace, so I really had to stay as close as I could to 9:00 pace for the ups.

Everything was going according to plan, even up the bottom of Starflower Trail when it first climbs out of the canyon from Stream Trail. This is that “Woodmonster” you’ve heard about. That’s a 700+ foot climb in about 1.2 miles, and it hurts. I lost all my mojo here, hitting mile 6 at just under 51 minutes. Thinking about running 3 more miles to the finish in 17 minutes was daunting, and I was relieved that it was mostly downhill.

But I was officially cooked, only able to hit a 7:29, 7:40 and a 7:15 pace for those last three miles, and of course Lucas passes me with about a half mile to go, I wanted so badly to go in with him, but had nothing. I kept trying to go to the well and it was bone dry. Guys kept passing me and I couldn’t go with them, it was both demoralizing and a lesson in humility- I’ve kept this race close to me and have used it a few times during tougher training runs to motivate me.

So I crossed the line at 1:10:01, 1:30 off my goal but happy to be done. These short races hurt the whole time- I went out hard, probably too hard. But I guess that was the point again; to make myself hurt and get to a spot where I’d have to push through the hurt and see what would happen.

I finished in 30th overall, 29th men’s and 7th in the men’s 35-44 division.

Spent.

Spent.

That’s the bad news.

The good news: I finished 6th overall in the East Bay Triple Crown Trail Championship with a combined time of 4:01:30, with my buddy Lucas finishing just ahead of me in 5th overall. It was a really great experience- met some solid people, saw some folks I haven’t seen in a while and ran some down-homey good time old school races.

Don’t know if I’ll ever do it again, but at least I got the opportunity to do it this year and for that I’m super grateful. So here’s to the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders and the Castro Valley Track Club for helping put these races on, as well as the amazing trail community in the East Bay.

A special shout out to the East Bay Regional Parks Dept. and the volunteer trail workers for keeping our trails well-maintained.

Next up: The Redwood Anvil 20-Miler Race Report

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