"Daddy, how was your race?"
Her eyes go wide. "You won?" Long pause.
"You really won?"
"Yes. I was as surprised as you are."
I had three goals for Saturday's Woodside 50K, run a personal best, stay with the leaders until the climb out of Wunderlich park, and run to win or at least leave it all out on the course. In thinking about the Pacifica 50K two weeks before I realized I gave up on running for the win very early on in the race. I didn't want to repeat that mistake. I didn't want to see the first place runner disappear into the distance and give up on catching him.
I was anxious for this race all week long and I wanted to get out fast to keep the pace honest and avoid getting dropped. Last year's race started at a blistering pace and saw Michael Buchanan and Richard Blanco disappear in the first few miles. Michael went on to run a course record, 3:57. When Wendell started the race I took off, expecting a bunch sprint to the first turn. Instead I ended up leading the first singletrack descent and the first half of the climb up to Skyline.
Ryan Commons was right behind me but he was soon replaced by Scott Dunlap and Kevin Weil. Kevin was leading Scott and they finally caught me as the trail leveled out a bit before we hit the steeper fire road. Scott and Kevin were chatting back and forth and I admit to being intimidated by their easy conversation and apparently effortless climbing. Equally intimidating was seeing Beverly Anderson-Abbs running in fourth place. Kevin moved ahead of me and seemed to glide up the climb with his smooth stride.
At this point the race moves from narrow single-track in a mixed forest up to a fire road cut through redwood trees and douglas fir. The trees loom tall, their tops lost in the canopy. The road does its best to reach the tops of the trees as it climbs steeply in this section. Kevin kept moving fast and as we crested the hill Ryan took off on the descent. I had flashbacks of two weeks ago and went with him.
I skipped the first aid station and tried to pick up the pace after we crossed Kings Mountain Road. Only Kevin was behind me. This next section is just under six miles of rolling hills from Huddart Park to Wunderlich paralleling the ridge-line. I was feeling a bit spent after the climb out of Huddart and I hoped to refuel and keep it together until the next big climb. Kevin Weil moved into the lead and his long smooth strides looked effortless. Ryan was just behind us, and soon Scott Dunlap joined us again and then flew by us with a very polite, "Do you mind if I pass?"
He swears he is still in the "aerobic" stage of his training and that he hasn't done any speedwork since the Fall. I found that hard to believe as I watched him slip farther ahead into the enveloping mist. The trail in this section is covered with a soft moist carpet of redwood needles that cushions your steps and dampens the sound of each stride. Around a few more corners and Scott was gone, vanished into the lead. This was exactly what I promised I wouldn't let happen but when Kevin offered to let me by to chase after Scott I declined. The Woodside 50K race starts or ends on the climb up out of Wunderlich park. I clung to the hope that we could catch Scott on the climb.
As we climbed up to the second aid station at Bear Gulch, Kevin opened up a fifty yard lead. I filled up my bottle and took off after him. I seemed to be catching him on the steeper sections of the descent through storm thrown branches, rocks, roots and puddles. But when the trail flattened he would speed up. I finally caught him and we ran together for a while until the climb started. I was right behind him for a few strides and then he loped away up the trail, until he was a full switchback (100 yds) ahead of me.
I started to feel better and better as the climb progressed. The refueling worked. As we climbed back up to the Redwoods out of the Eucalyptus forest I saw Scott. I caught the comet and as I passed him he mentioned something about his hip. Only after the race did I learn he caught his foot on a root and went down, injuring his hip. Scott hung on to third place and ran a personal best despite the injury.
Everything came together on that climb. My legs felt light and I was accelerating with each turn. Running felt effortless. I reeled Kevin in until we were running side by side. We came over the hill to the Bear Gulch Aid station (thanks to the volunteers who braved the cold and wet!), filled up our bottles and set out for Huddart. I wasn't sure what to expect at this point. I kept repeating "run to win", "run to win" until the back of my neck tingled. I thought I could run with Kevin until the last downhill and try to lose him there -a risky strategy. It turned out that as we ran over that roller coaster of a trail Kevin fell back until I couldn't see him around the bend.
I skipped the last aid station and tried to get my legs to turn over faster on the descent to the finish. The "descent" includes about a third of a mile of gradual climbing which feels just super so late in the race. I started to look at my watch to see if I had a chance of breaking four hours and concluded that was unlikely but worth a shot.
I finished in 4:02:10, thanks to great competitors like Kevin, Scott and Ryan who pushed all the way. The Woodside 50K gets more competitive every year as evidenced by the eight runners who finished under 4:25 including myself, Kevin Weil, Scott Dunlap, Beverly Anderson-Abbs (blazing fast 4:15 course record), Ryan Commons, Michael Buchanan, Will Gotthardt and Alan Abbs.
One of the best parts of PCTR races is hanging out at the finish and chatting with other runners over a bowl of chili. Saturday was no exception.
Michael Buchanan after the race - he's as fast as he looks!
Kevin Weil - Mr Smooth Stride with Bev Anderson-Abbs in the background
TC - in great need of a bowl of chili
Scott Dunlap and I
Nothing like a big hug from my wife and daughter after returning from a race to put the final touch on a great day. My family has always been very supportive of my training and racing and I just want to say thanks!